Wherever I’ve worked, the most innovative work gets done outside the official hierarchy and processes. It’s unfortunate but true. For good reason, the leadership of most organizations is risk-averse. That makes it important to allow the freedom for employees to collaborate across various departments and to give them some leeway in their work duties to pursue the things they believe are important (a principle 3M thrives on).
Some great examples of the value of the skunkworks at Grand Rapids Community College:
- Social Media Engagement: Though it was never part of my job description, I’ve been following and experimenting with social media on behalf of my organization for years, and it’s now turning into a valuable tool for outreach and information gathering.
- Online Reputation Management: Watching the conversations about things I’m interested in has long been a practice of mine, and I brought it with me to GRCC. It’s now a core part of my workday and the college relies on the insights we glean from conversations in social media.
- iPhone App: This project was rejected by the leadership of the college’s IT department, so my friend/colleague (and brilliant programmer) Szymon Machajewski worked on it in his free time.
- Social Media Policy: No one asked for it, but I felt there was a need for the college to engage employees on the topic of social media, so I drafted guidelines that are currently making their way through the approval process.
- SMS Txt Crisis Messages: Undertaken by the Distance Learning staff with the exceedingly generous contributions of Doug Kaufman of Cleartxt (the crisis portion of which was later acquired by Rave Wireless), GRCC became the first college in the region (and possibly the state) to offer crisis text messaging waaay back in 2005 – long before the shootings at Virginia Tech that popularized the service among higher education institutions.
- Collaboration With Google Docs: Early adopters at the college like Eric Mullen began using Google Docs and they now serve as the basis for the work GRCC’s Communications Dept. does (using forms/templates to collect data about projects, and shared folders to hold project-related data that can be shared seamlessly).
So to my colleagues Szymon Machajewski, Klaas Kwant, Eric Kunnen, Eric Mullen, Garrett Brand and Patrick LaPenna – thanks for making work a fulfilling, engaging, challenging experience. All hail the Skunkworks!