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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.

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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!

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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!





Why Companies shouldn’t build Online Communities..

22 10 2009

1600_3Forget about Communities.Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Oh I know that communities are all the rage currently – companies are falling over themselves to create, build and own their very own communities: Communities of Employees, Communities of Customers, Communities of Interest Groups, Communities, Communities, Communities….

But with all of these efforts out there, how many of them are yielding real tangible results for the sponsoring organization? It seems that the very concept of communities is a flawed one for most corporations – leading to wasted time, money and effort – and I think I know why.

Let me explain:

2945559128_53078d246bI find that many, maybe even most, companies approach social media, and other online community projects – with very little, if any, forethought on how value will be achieved as a result of jumping on this particular bandwagon.

They seem to share a belief that value will just “be created” by the mere existence of a new online channel; that innovation will simply appear if you provide a new collaborative tool; that competitive advantage will be retained through the “ownership” of a new networking group.  Yet that’s rarely ever the case.

field-dreamsUnlike in the movie “Field of Dreams” – you can build it – but “they” rarely come spontaneously – or if they do, they may well end up playing a jovial game of scrabble rather than a vintage MLB baseball game on the back lawn.

Even the word Community itself is somewhat flawed when applied to a corporate setting: Here’s the Dictionary.com definition of the word:

com⋅mu⋅ni⋅ty  [kuhmyoo-ni-tee]

–noun, plural -ties.

1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.: community of property.
8. similar character; agreement; identity: community of interests.
9. the community, the public; society: the needs of the community.

old-ageThere’s a lot of nice words and feelings in that definition. “A social group”; “common heritage”; “interacting populations”; “shared identity”….The word conjures up a nice warm vision of a collection of friends and associates sitting around a fireside or, for the more cynical among you,  images of suburban old age homes in Florida and Arizona maybe.

As I look at that definition however- I ask myself – where’s the value in that for a company? Where does it get created? Augmented? Shared? Delivered? Whichever way you look at it, communities are about people gathering with no set agenda or action in mind – so why would a company invest/waste resources to simply enable random conversations amongst a group of people?  At best, it’s an exercise in corporate branding to be associated with a particular conversation topic; at worst it’s an exercise in wishful thinking.

Lencioni_WebAt the recent World Business Forum, held in New York City on Oct 6-7, Patrick Lencioni (founder and president of the Table Group, and a fantastically articulate and dynamic speaker incidentally) spoke to the audience about “What makes a good team?”.  One specific question stuck with me: “If you have a bunch of people who play in a sports team each week, really get on well with each other socially, gel as a unit, yet still manage to not win a single game – are they a good team?” Patrick asked with a mischevious look  at the front row and a pause for effect.  “The answer is NO – they’re just a bunch of LOSERS!” (cue laughter and some nervous side glances between executives either side of me).

Whilst maybe declared a tad glibly by Patrick, the core message was clear, and it got me thinking about what had been bothering me with the concept of communities for so long: That lack of performance, of achievement, of purpose. It struck me that the relative value of the concept of “communities” to most organizations is not dissimilar to Patrick’s example of a team that doesn’t win – they are, in essence, Losers. And why would companies waste time creating groups of Losers?

It seems to me that the failure companies are making starts right at the beginning with a badly formed misconception as to what they really need – and it’s not an online community – it’s an online team.

It may seem as if I’m nit-picking or playing with semantics in making this differentiation – but consider what this simple change in mindset would mean to projects as you think about how to build a great online team instead of an online community.  All of a sudden you add dimensions of:

wales-rugby-squad

  • Direction and Leadership
  • Shared Goals, Shared Failures, and Shared Successes
  • Ensuring Participation of Diverse Skill Sets
  • Tangible Achievement
  • Passion, Purpose and Loyalty

Whist still retaining all the collaborative, cooperative and creative structures usually associated with Communities.

I don’t know about you – but I know which one I’d rather build! You tell me – What’s the more powerful concept?…








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