Community building at work

Community building

Community building

After online social communities have almost taken over our real life social network, the community concept starts gaining success on the work floor. Companies are less reluctant to open up their networks for networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

If we look back five to ten years ago, thinking that we would use chat clients to work with colleagues abroad but also next to us was impossible.The idea that we have a intracompany social network with liberty to participate in communities of various kinds was unthinkable.

And yet we still have to grow in community building at work.

Since community building is not new and is also a topic in real life, it has been studies by many scientists and psychologists. Pecker describes an interesting four step community development process which can be compared the Tuckman’s stages of group development (forming, norming, storming, performing).

1. Pseudocommunity stage

A pseudocommunity is a freshly produced community. It’s actually just a group people placed together. We see the same with new communities started up at work (eg. when a new change effort is launched): it’s all new, everyone wants to join, but there’s no real community yet. The main characteristic of this stage is that people pretend to be a community: stories are shared, but everything is very correct and polite. There’s no real discussion taken place and the participation is more passive and one-way oriented.

Although it seems artificial, this stage is needed to build safety, trust and respect. (remember: no healthy conflict without conflict!)

Some tips:

  • Don’t invite all participants at once: people are drawn to you over time if you provide good, valuable and authentic information.
  • Think dialog and not pushing information.

2. Chaos stage

In the second stage, chaos, the participants learn they are different and start to explore the differences. In chaos people let go of their manners and blurt out their prejudices, opinions and judgments. The group boundaries and norms are explored: what can be discussed, what can be questioned?

We transition to the next stage when participants start to learn that healthy conflict is natural.

Some tips:

  • It starts with the first conversation.
  • Set boundaries without killing the enthusiasm.

3. Emptiness stage

The word emptiness here is used as in “freeing up his thoughts” and “sharing real experiences and emotions”. The community starts to share authentic stories. Interactions become deeper and more meaningful, the participation of the community goes beyond clicking the “like” button and only challenging.

Some tips for acquiring this in online communities at work:

  • Build in a reputation model (eg. member of the week, most active member, profile badges, …).
  • Create an environment where everybody is a respected leader, and a dedicated follower.
  • Don’t try to create passion, but find passionate participants.
  • Make participants aware that the group can benefit from the information you as participant hold.
  • Encourage users to reinforce their feelings of belonging to the community by identifying themselves actively as a member.

4. Community

In this stage, participants are sharing success and failure stories. They exchange experiences. Differences are appreciated. Co-creation is possible and rewarded.

Some tips:

  • Keep rewarding all members in the community. Keep the connection alive.
  • Keep the interaction alive. Find a community manager who tracks community usage, identifies opportunities and initiates conversations.
  • Avoid saturating your audience with irrelevant updates.

Additional reading

The Community Building Process by Jerry L. Hampton
10 Community Building Tips
Community Building: How to Grow With the Power of People
How to create active online communities
Three Key Stages of Growing a Community Online
How To Build An Online Community: The Ultimate List Of Resources (2012)

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