Defining the “Social Team”

9 02 2010

[tweetmeme]If you’ve been following me online on Twitter or elsewhere, you’ve probably heard me mention the concept of “Social Teams” more than a few times recently.

It is, in my mind, a powerful idea that has the ability to change the way companies and individuals view online collaboration efforts – with the potential to achieve dramatic results.

I’ve always believed that people want to interact online in a similar structure to their interactions in the offline world. The fact that we’re not usually able to doesn’t mean that we don’t want to.

In the real world, we associate ourselves with communities to find people of similar interests with whom to interact. These communities are important to define the overall population of socially connected people; but they’re useless as a way to actually get anything done.  When we set out to actually achieve something, we abandon the broader “community” concept in favor of focused subgroups of active individuals that are more motivated and able to get things done.

For example, in my sport of choice, rugby, we talk about a wider “rugby community” around the world. When we go out, we socialize, drink, and have fun as a community – it’s a bond that ties rugby players around the world. But we don’t compete as a community, we compete as individual teams. We don’t govern the sport as a community, but rather using an elected “team” of individuals picked from the community.

In other words we “exist” as a community, but we “achieve” as a team.

The same concept is true in the online world. Technology has given us the methods by which to define and connect to, our own communities.  Each of us “exists” within a multitude of communities with which we  associate – with differing levels of interest. However, to actually achieve a specific aim/goal, we need to tap into a subset of that group to create a “team” to help us achieve that.

It’s important to understand that whilst I use the term “team”, these sub-groups of people don’t exactly conform to the standard idea of what a “team” looks like or acts like – we’re no longer looking at working groups of enlisted employees in a corporate environment, nor the familiar images of a band of 10-15 athletes playing a game “on any given Sunday”.

These “Social Teams”, can be massive groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people in an online setting. They are teams on a scale never seen before, and on a playing field of incomprehensible proportions.  Team members may never have met each other, but nevertheless choose to work with each other to achieve a mutually desirable goal or function.

Social Teams are not top-down, nor bottom-up; they can be purposely set-up, or self-formed by team members; they can exist in purely social settings or as corporate sponsored groups.

They are a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they’re playing” (ie the team’s purpose); know in which goal they’re trying to score in (ie have a shared understanding of what ‘a win’ looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim.

They incorporate the structure of a traditional team, with the social contract of a community.

Although Social Teams differ from the physical world in terms of the actual method and depth of their social interaction – many of the same rules for success in the offline world, hold true in the online world.

For example, if we use a typical amateur sports team as an analogy; we can define roles that need to be fulfilled by in order for the group to be successful:

1) A good Captain – someone to lead, motivate, organize and drive participation and effort from the team.  The best Captains are charismatic leaders who drive from the front; which entails being seen as a valuable contributor to the group; garnishing respect from other team members, and being effective networkers who are able to gel and glue the team together.


2) An astute Manager/Coach – someone to define and drive what is success for the team. To co-ordinate the team’s efforts, to let them know what game they’re playing when they get to the field, and in what direction they need to advance. To provide them with a strategy, a formation, and to provide the team with the tools required to succeed – whether it be drafting in new players to bolster the squad, or providing appropriate training aids to keep players sharp.

3) Superstar Goal Scorers – people who might not always be the most active or hardworking on the field – but nonetheless are able to provide that spark of brilliance that will provide you with a large percentage of the goals, (or commercialized value) produced by your team.

4) A group of Creative Midfielders –ball/information distributors who make connections, provide links, and drive the conditions that create opportunities for goals to be scored.

5) A Solid Defense – the building blocks and foundation of the group – providing a core level of input, and information that gives the team a platform from which to build an attack.

Unlike the real world, in a Social Team, it’s important to point out that most of these positions are not usually assigned by anyone to anyone, but rather assumed with group permission by team members on their own.

This is not about imposing a hierarchical structure on a group of people, but rather about providing the team with the basis needed to work efficiently together towards a common goal.

Using this model, you can see how so many companies fail in their collaboration efforts. By relying, as so many companies do, on simply “enabling a community” to exist, they’re essentially doing the equivalent of sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field waiting for 11 random people to find the field, collectively decide that they want to play the same game, and then set out to beat Arsenal Football Club with no organization at all.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s folly – it’s time to let go of that folly and get a good game going!

So how do you use all this information to drive results within your collaboration efforts? I’ll discuss that in my next post – in the meantime, as always, your comments and thoughts are gratefully received!



14 responses

9 02 2010
George Levy

Very interesting way of dividing the roles of the team… I especially like the part: “Unlike the real world, in a Social Team, it’s important to point out that most of these positions are not usually assigned by anyone to anyone, but rather assumed with group permission by team members on their own.” I’m taking that thought and letting it sink in while rereading and analyzing the whole post from multiple angles. Thanks!

9 02 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks George – glad you like it – am looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts after further analysis!

10 02 2010
Why Ideas Are Core to Enterprise 2.0 « I’m Not Actually a Geek

[…] idea is my call to form my own virtual team, to see who can help me accomplish something of value to me and the organization. I contrast this […]

10 02 2010
SiliconANGLE — Blog — The Future of Social Networks: Ideas

[…] idea is my call to form my own virtual team, to see who can help me accomplish something of value to me and the organization. I contrast this […]

11 02 2010

This is outstanding Boris. I now understand where you’ve been coming from. It’s not that communities don’t have a place in society, or the workplace, or online. Rather, it’s that they are by definition broader, more generalized, and lacking the innate ability to create specific deliverables.

When social teams form from their ranks, however, with roles and resources and scope defined, anything is possible.

Do I have it now?

Sorry, I’ve been immersed in the “community of practice” model for so long, i had trouble letting go of it. Thanks for being patient with me.

11 02 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Perfectly said and understood Chris!

15 02 2010
John Michitson


This is helpful insight!


18 02 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Hi John

Glad you found it useful! Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions that this may have inspired that I can answer for you 🙂



22 02 2010
Roland Harwood

Great post Boris and couldn’t agree with you more that organisations don’t get the difference between communities and teams. I’ve seen many an organisation brag about the size of their community but it doesn’t take much to find out that there is little cohesion or motivation in what is essentially just a database. I like the distinction you make between teams and communities and am very interested in the potential of very large teams. Do you think there is an optimum size or is more always better? R

22 02 2010
Boris Pluskowski

You ask a really interesting question there Roland – my feeling is that there is no “optimum” size. Unlike in a face to face meeting where too many people in the room make communication impossible, the virtual nature of the medium used for Social Teams means that everyone can still have their input regardless of how many people are involved.

Indeed, for a long term Social Team to survive, I would say you have to be constantly attracting and recruiting new teammates to replenish the inevitable transition of members coming and going organically as their motivations, interests, and time constraints influence the commitment they give the teams they’re involved with.

In non-corporate run Social Teams, I think it also helps to have more members to off load the “burden” of leadership somewhat – and to make sure that there is a flow of fresh ideas and thoughts into the team to enhance the learning experience for everyone involved.

What are your thoughts on this?

24 02 2010
Calvin Bacon


It seems to me that a “Social Team” is akin to “Society”. The thing that you have made more understandable is the fact that we all have an important role to play. If we work together, we can get more accomplished. A social team is a loosely-coupled organization with a non-traditional purpose.


4 04 2010
Patti Anklam » Socializing

[…] beings, it is social learning. I have also blogged social learning at theappgap. Social team (from Boris Pluskowski): a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they are […]

26 05 2010

You are certainly a great inspiration to me:-)

I am currently focused on the global nature of a start up biz/company and building a social team, and I cant think of any other way to go. Do I have other effective options? Other options considering the global and under funded nature of the Start Up? @CASUDI

15 04 2014
Making Waves: Innovation in the Flow of Insight | The DNA of Collaboration

[…] Pluskowski, The Complete Innovator (blog), re: sporting teams as […]

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