If we look at all of the communities we are part of, it might look like an infinite field of overlapping VENN diagrams. I look at community creation as a labor of assisted self-discovery -- the community you wish to create already exists, but the members just don't know it yet.
Why? Usually it's because they're so focused on "getting stuff done" that they are unaware of their connection to this group, although the connection can seem pretty opaque.
In my work as a community manager at a global company, I work towards enabling, encouraging, coaxing and cajoling my colleagues to become aware of how much they have in common with their counterparts halfway across the world. I am probably not the only person on the planet trying to crack this particular nut.
Being a community manager, I'm a bit more meta-aware of this kind of connection and am more likely to reach out to others across the web and ask questions, listen, read and discover ways to find the things that will help me help my colleagues.
However, the bulk of others in the workplace are, as I said, extremely busy "getting stuff done." This is particularly true in corporate environments where community and collaboration are either a. neutral-to-dormant in the culture or b. downright hostile to the frameworks and processes due to the way the company is hierarchically set-up or how the employees are judged (annual performance reviews, stack-ranking, the highly touted and even more hated 'Hero Model' that is rewarded at so many companies, etc.).
In the first case, your biggest foes are "the way we've always done things" and enterprise inertia. In the second case, if you've been hired by a company as an "internal community manager," someone at the company has pitched the value and gotten some kind of buy-in ... that's why you're there. You will have the same battles as a community manager in the first case, but you likely have some actively hostile elements to work with as well.
None of these cases is utterly impossible, although it feels that way sometimes. At a high-level, let's look at these three logjams and how you might approach them.
"This is how we've always done it."
This is related to inertia, but it is a component of comfort and a desire to control personal and professional change. Change (or dynamism, to speak more positively and not scare people ...) is a given today. Our workplaces tell us to embrace change, our culture hammers us with "Change is Good" messages and, given the transitory nature of life, it is a fact that no moment is the same as it has ever been and never will be again.
That said, amorphous change can bother even the most ardent change advocate. Uncertainty bothers us. If a work group has a process that has worked for them for a while (in today's definition that could mean for the past six months), they may be loath to change it. Looking beyond the group's borders for better ways to do things brings a certain uncomfortable self-examination. Having someone from outside their tribe come in and suggest something as a way to improve their lot may have to do some substantial convincing before the cooperative lights start to flicker on.
So, how to approach this? First, ask some questions and then listen. And then listen. Did I mention listening?
What are you listening for? You're listening for what their "security blankets" might be, individually and as a group. You're listening for where they feel the most proud about what they do. You're listening for where there just might be some pain points. You're listening for something like "I wonder if there is a better way?"
Unless something is horribly broken, and once you have gained a bit of trust (e.g. trust is never built by marching in, dropping a "process bomb" and walking away), suggest the "+1." What's the one thing they could do? Where, across the company, might they find that one thing? Enable them to start thinking past the group silo just a little.
Chipping away at this logjam requires regular, little-by-little suggestions and growth. The Zen masters point out that not even the mountain can withstand the gentle stream over time. Coming back to this stream, in the form of community, eventually becomes more natural.
While closely related to the first logjam, inertia is more organizational. You will see this kind of problem when presenting proposals for new or enhanced processes, and perhaps some enabling tools or platforms. Certainly there are valid calls for business value and examples of corporate success. However, once these have been presented with solid data and a plan, and the old objections are raised again, you are probably dealing with this kind of inertia.
In approaching this, propose a pilot within a group or division to prove the value. Interviewing leaders and influencers within the divisions will give a good view as to the most effective and visible place to start. Be ready to work with a smaller footprint, but don't be afraid to request key assets for success.
Fortunately, a lot can be done with the buy-in of a group and existing assets that are more effectively used and more imaginatively administered. Think about your "stock SharePoint installation" and what you could do with it to enable the community. My experience has been that a great many companies use SharePoint as a glorified network drive for document storage and do not attempt to use any of the collaborative, workflow or community-tinged capabilities.
Be sure to have agreed upon success metrics and report back with successes and challenges to the corporate stakeholders who are watching your pilot. Soon the value will become evident and some inertia may be eliminated. It may never totally evaporate, but nothing succeeds like success, so be both consistent and flexible to how different groups might bond, looking for the connections that will help them to a broader awareness and action.
This is a particularly difficult logjam to deal with, if only because it can feel as if it is personal. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it isn't.
As I mentioned, if the company has hired you, someone has sold the organization on the value of internal community and collaboration. Along with the other two logjams, you need to enlist the background understanding and organizational wisdom of the persons, team and managers that are responsible for your onboarding.
Work to understand the existing landscape and the perceived reasons for the hostility. You will eventually need to start making "diplomatic overtures" with the parties or team that are hostile to the community and begin to build trust. A good model is international diplomacy. Overtures, small, trust-building gestures, dialog, and, once more, lots and lots of listening.
Find out why they feel threatened. Begin to work on that, to the degree that you can. If you find yourself in a conversation at a level that requires the engagement of management, take that to the appropriate people and move slowly. The hostile party won't appreciate feeling like they are being brought to task by your inclusion of management, so be sure a level of trust is established first. This is delicate, and every scenario will be different.
Working through these logjams is a career's worth of work. Find meaning in the good work you accomplish, share that with teammates and other community managers. Listen, learn, relate and be authentic.
Image courtesy of BGSmith (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: To read more by Jeff, see his Employee Engagement 2.0 Requires a Human 1.0 Foundation