SIX OBSTACLES TO BUILDING COMMUNITIES IN ORGANIZATIONS
Rachel Happe begins her latest post, 10 Trends for the Future of Communities, with a comprehensive description of the various intersecting and intermingling streams and characteristics that inform communities, and I am quoting her below:
“Communities sit at the intersection of a number of trends; social media, digital transformation, a generational shift to prioritize purposeful work, the future of work, change management, leadership and social learning.”
This is one of the most inclusive descriptions that captures the various threads and reasons for building communities in organizations. Yet, this is where organizations are struggling. In this post, I want to explore a few reasons for this struggle. I have written before about the fallibility of trying to have social learning as a bolt-on strategy, on the role of social technology as an avenue for building communities in organizations, and the importance of building communities to facilitate emergent learning.
The role of a Community Manager is becoming well-established with communities being perceived as platforms that have the potential to reduce the cost of communication, bridge organizational silos, facilitate cross-team conversations thus creating opportunities for innovation, knowledge transfer, expertise location, and more. However, despite of the various tangible and intangible benefits of communities, organizations are in reality discovering that establishing thriving communities and building a social business is challenging on various fronts, calling into question some of the very fundamental principles and frameworks on which organizations have been created. Here are some of the challenges:
1. Proliferating Platforms – Organizations, especially large, globally distributed organizations suffer from what I call the “unconscious silo syndrome”. Most often, the inadvertent unawareness of what is happening in the rest of the organization give managers, decision-makers and other employees a feeling that “we are the new age torchbearers” and once it works in this team/project/business function, the initiative can be taken to the rest of the organization for an enterprise-wide implementation. Needless to say, it is human for all to want a bit of fame that comes with being the trendsetter and a possible organizational visionary. In reality, this leads to pockets of experimentation and duplication of effort without a holistic view of or alignment with the organizational strategy and business goals. The result is of course a less than desirable state of platform overdose, and an amplification of the offline silos onto a now online medium.
2. The “Bottom-Up” Approach – Many organizations tread on the conservative and cautious side and stay away from a big-bang launch for various reasons including skepticism at the leadership level, lack of skills in putting together a strategy for community building and management, fear of investing too much time and money without a clear idea of the intended results, and so on. The general approach usually adopted is to put in place a platform, do a bit of word-of-mouth marketing, and hope that people will start conversing and engaging on the platform. The initial few weeks, or even months, may see some traction, but it is usually scattered, disconnected and directionless. Very soon the enthusiasm of the initial few die down, the platform either becomes a ghost town or a land of thousand flowers and the expected outcome of communities and collaboration do not materialize. As Andrew McAfee, et al. highlight in their book Leading Digital…:
“…we saw no successful transformation happening bottom-up. Instead, executives in every Digital Master steered the transformation through strong top-down leadership: setting direction, building momentum, and ensuring that the company follows through.”
3. Policy-Driven Paralysis – When a decision is made to embark on a community and collaboration journey on the duly selected enterprise collaboration platform, organizations become suddenly fearful of all the possibilities of information leakage, open expression of sentiments by irate employees, sharing of sensitive and politically incorrect information, and so on. The reaction is to begin by creating guidelines and policies trying to encapsulate and articulate everything that employees cannot and should not do on the platform. The result is anything but inspiring or conducive to open collaboration. It is akin to tying people up in chains and then expecting them to do a tango. IMHO, it is time to let go and show more trust in the very employees that the organization has selected through well-defined recruitment and interviewing processes.
4. Collaboration Conundrum – While we keep hearing the impending death knell of the bell curve, the truth is that a large percentage of organizations still abide by it for various reasons – lack of another system, familiarity syndrome, alignment of business and operational processes, management capability (or lack thereof in handling a new way of appraisal), HR and leadership lethargy, and more. The result is the creation of a tension between a competitive and a collaborative mindset. To be absolutely honest, it is very hard to be collaborative and share openly if an employee knows that s/he will be judged and measured against their peers when the appraisal time comes around. It is difficult for a manager to justify and facilitate open collaboration, and then do a rank and yank to fit a designated set of high-performers in the bell curve. And woe betide the manager who has too many high-performers and collaborators in his/her team. This false system of forced ranking eliminates collaboration, creates a sense of scarcity over abundance (be it for a specific rating or that prized project), and turns team members into opponents. Bye bye communities and collaboration!
5. Leadership Detachment – Many a times, something as critical as the building of a collaborative culture and thriving communities are left to the HR and L&D departments to drive. It is posited as “let’s see if collaboration & social business works because everyone is talking about it”. Senior leaders and C-suite members feel they are too time constrained to dabble in activities like communities when issues of graver import like shareholder profit, top line and bottom line figures, M&A’s are awaiting their attention. However, the reality today is that without a connected, collaborative and resilient organization, all other strategy is likely to fail. Times of intense change and ambiguity as we are living in today demands collaboration and a strong leadership who will walk the talk.
6. Dearth of Digital Skills – It is not that people do not know how to tweet or post pictures on Facebook or create a Pinterest board. IMHO, digital skills go beyond the common activities that almost everyone with a smart phone can indulge in today. Digital skills are closely related to a digital mindset, which I define as “the ability to understand the power of technology to democratize, scale and speed up every form of interaction and action.” Very often, organizations — this includes employees, leaders, managers, and everyone comprising the ecosystem — lack this inherent capability of using technology to facilitate the building of PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) and communities. Digital skills include capabilities like working out loud, pattern sensing, sharing and connecting openly to develop a rich and diverse PLN, collaborating with a defined purpose, using technology with an awareness of its potential to promote self-driven learning, democratization of information, and so on. This mindset requires a degree of comfort with ambiguity, willingness to make mistakes, adopting a beginner’s perspective, welcoming of diversity, and a willingness to learn from all possible sources.
Written by our Guest Blogger, Sahana Chattopadhyay
Sahana Chattopadhyay is an L&D Consultant, OD Specialist, Blended Learning Architect, Social Learning Evangelist, and Blogger.
Sahana’s work cuts across performance consulting, workplace learning strategies from formal to informal and social learning, knowledge management methodologies and adult learning principles. She is passionate about helping organizations become learning organizations through community building, enabling personal knowledge management, and bringing working and learning together.
Sahana has appeared in the list of Top Ten e-Learning Movers and Shakers for the Asia Pacific region for four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014, topping the APAC list in 2014 and appeared in the top ten of the global list.
Copyright of posts written by our Guest Bloggers are their own.
Published on 05-Feb-2016
TOP 6 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHILE DESIGNING MOBILE LEARNINGOctober 21, 2017
Designing for mobile devices is like designing for any other medium, in that many of the underlying principles remain the same. But there are some important differences. Let’s look at these.
9 WAYS TO SUPPORT LEARNERS THROUGH THEIR MOBILE DEVICESJuly 21, 2017
There are myriad ways to leverage mobile technologies for learning and performance development. Here are a few of them.
PAINTING BY NUMBERSJuly 18, 2017
Science taught me to think about the world in a logical, systematic manner. It’s a way of thinking that is founded on statistics, and I maintain it should inform the activities we undertake in other sectors of society such as L&D.
4 GAMIFICATION PITFALLS AND HOW TO AVOID THEMNovember 17, 2017 4:11 am
Gamification can be interesting to conceive and rewarding to implement, but only if it is done well.
3 GOOD AND 3 POOR EXAMPLES OF GAMIFICATIONOctober 23, 2017 8:48 am
There are many examples of gamification… here is a look at 3 good and 3 poor ones.
TOP 6 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHILE DESIGNING MOBILE LEARNINGOctober 21, 2017 5:03 am
Designing for mobile devices is like designing for any other medium, in that many of the underlying
7 CHARACTERISTICS OF A DIGITAL MINDSETApril 19, 2016
The five digital forces are disintermediating, disrupting and deconstructing the old world order.
THE 70:20:10 L&D MODEL FOR DEVELOPING A HIGH-PERFORMING WORKFORCESeptember 06, 2013
“Too many teachers see education as preparing kids for the past, not the future.”
THE INCREDIBLE POWER OF DESIGN THINKING IN LEARNING DESIGNMay 02, 2015
We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.