Communities are NOT Teams

I recently stumbled across a great post called Communities Manifesto: 10 Principles for Successful
by Stan Garfield that I highly recommend. In his post Mr. Garfield lays out 10 principals that define community and also has suggestions for helping them grow and mature.

What communities are not …

Two of his principals in particular caught my attention because I’m wrestling with how to explain the basics of community to a company that draws a distinction between where they are now and where they want to go, so these two really jumped out at me.

  • Communities are not teams
  • Communities are not websites

These two principles nicely articulate what a community is not and sometimes that’s more helpful and descriptive than trying to state exactly what they are. Communities are NOT some nebulous team to manage or a website to maintain, communities are people.

But let’s think about where many companies are coming from. Corporations have a clear chain of command. Hierarchy and conformity is the norm. Everything is organized by function and there are clear objectives to be met. Teams and/or websites sometimes fit this model of thinking pretty well which leads many managers to try to manage communities as if they were one or the other. Concepts like “distributed decision making”, “earned leadership”, “reputation management”, and “merit based promotion” are foreign concepts that are not well understood and certainly not something they’d want to embrace in a hierarchical environment…. historically. However, companies are beginning to appreciate the benefits of less structure and more communal efforts in productivity, worker morale and innovative thinking.

So what are communities …

Communities are not projects to be managed, but are people voluntarily coming together around a common interest or set of problems.

In essence communities are about …

  • People, people, people
  • Articulating a vision that others can embrace and commit to
  • Sharing information and ideas
  • Observing how things are done and helping out
  • Working together to fulfill the vision

So for all you managers out there trying to manage your way to a successful community, STOP. Learn to manage by letting go and gently nudging here and there when things go astray but mostly just try to facilitate communication and stop trying to managing.