Tuesday, August 16, 2011

5 Questions to Ask When Setting up Communities

While the terms community management and community manager are more popular, I have never found them very comfortable to use. It is perhaps to do with the word management--which reeks of Taylorism, hierarchy, command and control--all the connotations that to me are anathema to creating a sense of belonging, infusing passion, and leading. I am happier with community leadership or community facilitation. A facilitator is an enabler, a helping hand and a guide. Good facilitation should almost be invisible, empowering members to take decisions and actions. Anyhow, I digress. I will leave the deconstruction of the word for another post...

I want to document a few of my initial learning from setting up communities within our organization. But I am leaping ahead. Let me set the stage a bit.

I have mentioned in my earlier post here that we have launched an enterprise-wide collaboration platform powered by Jive. As typically happens--there are early adopters who embraced the change and became active contributors on the platform. Then there are the cautious and the wary, dipping their toes in so to speak--but not quite willing to see all the benefits yet. And of course there are the sceptics--the quiet and the vociferous. To bring these individual users—endowed with diverse abilities, motivated differently, and at various levels of platform adoption—together to form communities is an entirely different kettle of fish. 

Yet, on the surface, it seems fairly straightforward. Create communities (i.e., groups on the platform) pertaining to the key capability areas/practices and people will join their “respective” groups to participate, share knowledge, collaborate to find solutions, have engaging conversations spanning different continents, countries, and time zones. That's the vision! But moving towards it requires carefully thought-out steps, clearing the path, and laying the bed—a process of continuous nurturing, tending, and guiding. No wonder the metaphor of gardening is so popular with community building! It comes closest to describing what needs to be done.

A note of clarification: When I talk about communities here, I am referring to groups of people who come together to achieve a shared purpose, learn from and share with each other, and enhance the group's as well as their own individual capabilities. 

Having tried my hand at helping to set up a few communities at the initial stage of the platform rollout, I learned a few valuable lessons. Because dumping everything I have learned into a single post will make this horribly long and confusing, in this post I have focused on the initial steps to take before setting up a community.

Aside: And my instructional design background is standing me in very good stead indeed. Setting up a community requires the same level of diligent analysis of needs, objectives, and desired output as does the creation of a training design.

Communities/groups in an enterprise setting form to serve different purposes. They operate under vastly different dynamics as compared to voluntary communities that form on the web, and I don't merely mean in terms of membership numbers. Communities within an enterprise have specific objectives to achieve, goals and tasks to collaborate towards—all of which should ideally help the organization to move closer to its overarching goals and vision. What’s more—each community can and will be very different from another—forming to serve entirely different purposes.

Some of these communities may revolve around core skills and capabilities important for the growth of the organization. These will be imbued with the spirit of long-term vision of capability development, sharing of knowledge and solving of complex issues. Others may form for a very specific purpose--around a project, event, or even a task. These are typically time-boxed communities seeing a spate of activities for a short while—used as an online gathering place to share ideas, insights, and conversations. In either case, I have learned that when someone requests for help in setting up a community, it is a good idea to ask:
  1. What are the objectives of the community?
  2. Who are the target members? What are they expected to do when they join the community?
  3. Who is going to tend the community, i.e., facilitate, moderate, and guide members?
  4. What business needs will be solved by the forming of this community?
  5. Who are the stakeholders? Are they all on the same page regarding the community’s goals and objectives? Do they have a shared vision?

Once these basic questions have been sorted out, it is time to design a few simple and concise guidelines for the community leaders as well as the members. Without some concrete points of reference, it is difficult to remain aligned with the community's vision over a period of time. 

I will share my thoughts and learnings around this in the next post...

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