This is a follow-up from two previous posts on leading team-based communities:
The participation issue from community ownership and structure
More thoughts on community structure and creation
As mentioned the most natural types of online communities are the one’s that are *pure* communities of practice. That is, cross-functional people (perhaps in different offices) that have a common interest, and want a space to leverage each others know-how.
The biggest community indicator of these is that a bunch of guys in different teams know about each others skills and regularly help each other out by email of face to face.
All they want is an online space designed to facilitate and better enable these interactions, and by default, leaving memory behind in one space.
And of course, by existing in a more visible and unified way, they may attract other like people.
The fact that they themselves are approaching me, is a sure thing…these guys are passionate and an online community will fire it.
This is a community naturally emerging bottom-up based on a need to be more productive by tapping into the organisational talent pool…I have more on this in a post called, Broad communities as fertile ground for new communities.
Dave Snowden’s quote seems to fit quite nicely here:
“If a community has value it will form and the technology now allows that.”
Business units/Teams also want to use our online community software, but this (in my mind) does not make them a community of practice. They are a team that want to use the same tools that we offer to people who want to better enable cross-functional interest practices.
In the end they have the same team relationships, but are attempting to communicate and coordinate using something other than email and a document management system.
NOTE: Actually perhaps the dynamics may change a little, as you may now get the chance to comment on your bosses posts which you may never have done in email. Also now you may post ideas or what’s on your mind, which you may never have done in email.
But in the end a team is about managing tasks, reaching targets, getting deliverables on time, performance measurement…hierarchy based and focused on outcomes.
One of the descriptors of a pure CoP is “cross-functional”, but this alone does not paint the precise picture. When coupled with a learning, and building capabilities type of approach, in a more flat and volunteered structure, the picture is more accurate.
The reason I say this is that you can have a hybrid CoP/Team space.
Eg. five cross-functional people are getting together to improve a process
It seems like a CoP, as it’s a space that is enabling cross-functional participation. But the way it plays is more like a team ie. they are focused on a task, rather than learning
For more on the differences see my post that links to a relevant paper.
Adopting Team CoPs
It’s usually the team lead who wants the community
- so right off the bat we need to know if it’s what the workers want
- and we need to know how to best structure it so the workers naturally participate
An idea here for the lead is to put aside control, prescribed structure and convenience of one space, and let the workers suggest community structure/number of communities
- a bottom-up way to structure a top-down request
In this approach we get to see if the workers are excited or not (also a good way to surface champions), and they will come up with more natural and usable structures ie. communities designed in a way that will actually be used, as the people on “ground zero” actually designed it to flow with their way of working.
It is essential the team lead must be active. If they are not, this sends a signal to the workers that the tools don’t have much merit. The team lead must be a role model.
Another thing is that if the team lead has appointed a champion, or one has volunteered to facilitate, it’s a very hard job to have influence in a team dynamic.
For example if I’m the champion, it’s hard for me to tell the team boss/s more than a few times that they need to be more active. I know my boss is busy, and I don’t want to bug them, but yet they want the community to work without realising the competencies required.
Likewise it’s hard for the champion to tell co-workers, could you please re-purpose that email as a blog post or a forum topic. Or I noticed you guys did a little research on that task, maybe you could blog about it as a work in progress, and use the forum to do the actual task…or perhaps write a blog post of your results.
After a while this becomes hard or futile as the champion is trying to force people who perhaps didn’t care to be part of the community in the first place, instead their membership was opted in on their behalf.
It’s hard because the champion feels, who am I to tell how my coworkers are to work, I can only do it so much till I become an annoyance.
So as you can see from this picture, the boss needs workers to truly want it, they need buy-in from their team. They need to let the team decide how it will be structured as to flow with their current dynamics of doing work. And the boss needs to send the right signals by eating his own dog food (or caviar for some), by actively participating in the community.