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...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

From Instructional Design to Enterprise Community Facilitation

This is a long overdue post, the draft of which had been languishing in my dropbox for some time--half forgotten. But finally I felt this needs to see the light of day. I have reached something of a cross-roads in my career, and I wanted to document the process of this arrival. It has been a long and exciting journey so far, dotted with exciting projects, some wonderful clients, and a tremendous amount of learning. But now I am traversing down a new path--albeit one I have wanted to travel for a long time.

An instructional designer by profession who started her career anlayzing learner needs, creating micro-design documents, writing story-boards and discussing the nitty-gritty of course navigation with visual designers, I have long been interested in the power of social, collaborative and informal learning. This interest was initially triggered by Jay Cross' seminal work, Informal Learning, Morten Hansen's Collaboration, Wenger, et al's Cultivating Communities of  Practice, Wenger, White, et al's Digital Habitats, various blogs--primarily those by the ITA members and others like Michele Martin, Nancy White, Dave Pollard, Dave Snowden, Nick Milton, George Siemens--and later, books like Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham's The New Social Learning, and John Hagel and JSB's The Power of Pull. And my own foray into the world of social media with Twitter. And over all of this hovered the Cynefin Framework that Shawn Callaghan's video had introduced me to. So, even while I scripted storyboards and designed programs for corporate elearning courses, consulted with clients on the best possible means of rolling out elearning in their organization, and suggested elearning solutions befitting their problems--from training engineers and mechanincs on fixing motorbikes to navigating a new software--I was on the constant lookout for an opportunity to put into practice the social and informal learning blend into workplace learning.

Learning--especially in today's workplace beset with complexity, rapid change, and new challenges--as we knew it was changing. It had to change for an organization to survive. There was scant time to design courses to address needs that evolved from moment to moment, that was undefined, needed creative solutions, and innovative daring. The age of Connectivism was truly upon us. One's ability to solve a problem or find an answer to a burning issue via one's network was fast becoming the measure of one's success. The age of social learning is here. The age of Collaboration and Participation is here. Powered by enterprise2.0 tools and technology, laden with social media tools and apps, fueled by the Pods and the Pads, social business burst upon the scene. It soon became a buzzword but also showed organizations the path to survival, a way to remain on top of things, to face complexity with agility, to meet cusotmer demands with inovation.

Folks like Andrew McAfee, Dion Hinchcliffe, Sameer Patel, Bill Ives, Riitta Raesmaa, J.P. Rangaswami, Venkatesh Rao, et al. showed the direction to the future of work  All of this led to my growing interest in communities, communities of practices and the art of community managment,  further fueled by Jono Bacon's The Art of Community.

Therefore, when an opportunity to dabble in communities and play a part in designing and enabling a social and collaborative learning environment as an enterprise community facilitator presented itself at ThoughtWorks, I jumped at it with alacrity. My interest in social business expanded beyond the by now well-defined benefits of reduced time to market, increased scope for innovation, customer engagement, and such. I wanted to understand how communities within an enterprise can help build capabilities, enable expertise, and truly transform an organization into a learning organization.

I have seen how thoughtful use of social media can transform individual learning, help build one's PLN, and fuel one's passion. I wanted to now explore the impact of social media, communities and collaboration on orgnizational learning, on the building of a learning organization. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience what I had so far been reading and dreaming about.  

Communities would be the building blocks of a successful move towards being a "social business". Cultivating communities would help to build capabilities, develop skill sets and enable the move from being a novice to an expert easier and quicker. However, theoretizing is always easier than practice. And only as I began to actively help set up communities did I realize the challenges, the needs, and the perseverance, patience and hard work required to put into play what I envision.

My ongoing learnings from helping to set up communities will be topics of other posts. However, I couldn't have started on those without setting the stage so to speak... For the foreseeable future, this blog is going to focus on my experiences and stories around setting up communities, enabling collaboration, and learnings. I am grateful for my Instructional Design background which is standing me in good stead on this new road...like a trustworthy friend.     

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...