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Continuing the Conversation: For Companies, Build Teams, Not Communities

8 12 2009

Yesterday I posted a response to all the wonderful comments and contributions that you all made to my last post on “Why Companies Shouldn’t Build Online Communities“.  As I plan to delve further into this idea of “Social Teams”, I thought I’d repost that reply as a post in its own right so as to make it easier for people to find and read – so here goes:

Dear All

Many, many thanks for your responses – they’re both very welcome and very appreciated. I wanted to take some time to reply to some of the concerns that were expressed in the comments.

It seemed that many of you think I was advocating that companies should no longer value the input of large groups of people. Far from it – the main point in the post was to point out that as a structure for large groups of people, the community concept is a flawed one – at least from a corporate perspective. It’s simplistic, unstructured, and lacking in motivation and purpose to name but a few flaws.

That’s not to say that value can’t be created in a community setting – it’s just very hard to do so because you’re relying on value being created through serendipitous interactions between community members. It’s not unlike advocating participating in the lottery as your prime way of getting rich – sure, it’s possible that you could hit the jackpot if you take part, but only a fool would rely on that as their sole chance at fame and fortune.

Likewise, whilst there is definitely a place for serendipity in an organization (more on that in a future post) – it would be a foolish management team that would rely on its occurrence to generate value for the company.  My argument instead is that the team framework is a much more robust and reliable one when it comes to generating value for a company.  In fact, in the few cases where looser community based initiatives have created value, I’ve found it’s usually because they began to adopt the characteristics and roles of a Social Team – namely things like purpose, direction, shared goals, diversity in skill sets and specialized roles, etc.

You could also make a good argument based on semantics – ie, that a Social Team is merely a type of Community; however, I think it would be equally valid to say that a community is simply a dysfunctional Social Team.

I think it’s also important to point out I focus on strategies and processes specifically to drive corporate value. Whilst I believe the Social Team concept still holds and still works in more social groups, the concept of what constitutes value and the expectation of it being created in those groups is very different to that of a large enterprise investing in this area.

Companies invest real money as well as intellectual capital into creating and participating in these networks, and as such, need to see a reasonable return, ideally on the bottom line to justify investing in these initiatives.

Having said that, my core belief is still that people function and perform better with a degree of organization when compared to loose collectives. In addition, the visualization aid that thinking of these groups in a similar fashion to that of a sports team, gives us to analyze and improve the quality of that interaction is invaluable.

I’ll go deeper into the Social Team concept in future posts, but in the meantime – please do keep your comments coming, or contact me directly via e-mail or twitter (@bpluskowski) – to discuss this further!

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3 responses

8 12 2009
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30 12 2009
Matt Chapman

This reminds me of a meeting I had this year (1 day left and counting). The company wanted to setup an internal community to discover ideas, facilitate selection and ultimately their realization. I sat their for sometime struggling with some key questions.

1. What is your strategy?
2. Who owns these ideas?
3. How do you make them a reality?

The answers…..

1. Our strategy is to connect people so they will come up with ideas with people they wouldn’t normally.
2. They do.
3. This will be done by the community.

It was at this point I realised they didn’t want innovation. Although they were the innovation team. They wanted nothing to do with directing it, just hoping it would happen if they created a community.

A community with no or little direction (i.e. strategy), streamlined process, or ability (unless they have budget or can convince people internally) to realize their ideas will struggle unless of course they hit the lottery! I’ve seen it happen but it’s never sustained or repeated.

Needless to say we went our separate ways. As I left I wondered why it didn’t work for them? Simple – it takes effort and planning to do it right (with expert help of course). It’s easy to do it quickly and badly, whilst appearing to have done something right.

But the results, well….I’ve seen bad grassroots communities work for years because they deliver some value. Thing is, benchmark that against someone doing it right and you’d soon realize how much value you missed by getting your strategy and process in order instead of leaving it to chance and the drive of the maverick to take their idea forward.

Now there’s a great topic – The Role of the Maverick. If I point to any great community there is usually a Maverick at the heart of driving it forward, with strategy, process and determination.

Happy New Year (nearly)……

8 01 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks for your comments Matt – much appreciated!

Interesting concept of the Maverick…would you care to describe it in more detail? I’ve got a post lined up with all the roles that a Social Team needs in order to succeed – any last minute contributions to tighten up that model are always welcome 😉

Best and Happy New Year (Just),

Boris

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