Last month I posted about some high-level questions about introducing Community of Practice (CoPs) to a team, see Team-based communities are about change, commitment and tasks. The crux of that post is that communities need work, leaders need to understand it’s about creating conditions for behaviours to adapt to a new way. Even if everyone loves the benefits, it doesn’t mean it will be used, it requires dedicated facilitating till people get used to using a community like it’s second nature…habits take time to be re-channeled, and this will be reinforced with guidance…and hopefully design is on your side by lowering the barrier to entry.
So when you are creating a CoP for your team, you are doing more than creating a website to share know-how, you are actually starting a new routine and behaviours…this is more psychology/sociology/cognitive sciences rather than technology.
In a later post, Online communities : Bottom-up requests, I delved into some golden start-up rules that people need to be aware of right from the word go, to prevent starting off on the wrong foot.
Following on from that, in this post I’ll share some more points about things to consider when creating a CoP.
WORKSHOP NEEDS AND WANTS
Prior to requesting a community, it’s a good idea to do a workshop with your team or group of people to understand their needs, wants and how they work. I mentioned some of the needs analysis questions in this post, and also a visual way.
If a potential community/s has value it will emerge from these bottom-up discussions.
This is in contrast to a top-down approach where a structure and community is created for a set of people in advance. This method is unnatural as it attempts to force a community into existence.
Ownership and Relevancy
The community members are more likely to participate if they feel strong about the topic, and have some sense of ownership of the community.
In regards to team-based communities (as opposed to shared interest groups), what happens quite often is that, for bigger teams, the community is too general, and not all members identify with it, or feel a sense of ownership.
They may also feel that when they visit the homepage it’s not 100% relevant to them.
A way to test this is whether all members identify with the community name, if it is too broad or vague, then people won’t feel a sense of place. The more specific a place is the more people can identify with it.
A good solution is to have multiple communities for each sub-team, this way each sub-team feels like they really own the community, and they are in a space with their closest colleagues.
A general and more simple community can be created for cross communications.
NOTE: all this is ideal, so long as we have leaders to lead each community
Confidence and Trust
People participate more frequently when they are in an environment they feel comfortable in, and this is more likely to happen amongst a smaller number of people you trust.
Interaction will be done in public rather than private email, and this fact makes a big difference in someone’s confidence, as they no longer control the audience, and the content is there to stay.
Passionate Leader/Facilitator and Role-Model
What is most essential is that a passionate and dedicated person is willing to run each community. And with team-based communities, this usually means the leads. For if the lead isn’t a role-model in active participation, then this sends a signal that the community is not important.
If the team-lead chooses a worker to lead the community, they sometimes find it hard to influence members to participate, as unlike cross-functional interest group type communities, members in some team communities may have had no choice in being members, and may only respond to higher authority.
RUNNING A PILOT
It’s paramount that community Facilitators and it’s key members pilot a new community before opening it up to more potential members.
The reason for this is that the Facilitator will need to be equipped to answer lots of beginner questions, the more proficient and experienced they are, the more they can guide members in the right direction.
A pilot run gives the key members a chance to use the community and get a feel if the structure is fluid enough, moving it around to accommodate the way it’s practically used. E.g. it may be decided that a particular forum is too general and it’s needs to be splintered into new forums.
Another aspect is that a blank community is not very forthcoming and exciting. New members want to see examples of the type of content added and where it’s added, so they can learn where things fit, and what type of content will now be handled by the community over other formats such as email. The more content there is to start with, and the more regular it’s added, the more you create a “stickiness” value, where you get people frequently visiting and contributing to be informed and socially interact.
A community specific help guide, and instruction are essential points of reference that the Facilitator may want to create, so members know how to use the community correctly.
In the next post I’ll point out some adoption factors.