Design An Organisation For A Community, Not A Community For An Organisation

Yammer and Zappos are changing how they work internally.

37 signals did the same a long time ago. 

Many other organisations are tinkering with their top-down hierarchical structure in favour of a community-driven approach. 

And what does a community generally consist of?

  • Smaller, autonomous, empowered groups.
  • Overlapping groups for communication/relatedness.
  • A single, high-level, source of what's new in the community.
  • Boundaries that people have to cross to be accepted as members.
  • Opportunities for each individual to take on additional effort.
  • Heavy emphasis on casual, social, interaction.  
  • Plenty of short-term milestones. 
  • Plenty of rituals and traditions.
  • Shared symbols.


Small Changes At A Time

The problem is most of us lack the power to design an organisation for a community. 

At the UN, we once had a consultant come in and explain what our digital team should look like. The fundraising/communication department should be merged, a head of digital should be appointed, and so on.

It all made perfect sense. Sadly, it ignored reality. The fundraising and communication department wasn't keen on being merged, neither head of the department wanted a new boss, and even if they did there was a hiring freeze in place. 

It would be great to be able to design social systems from scratch. Sadly we don't get to do that. 


Small Nudges At A Time

Instead we look for what's possible in each organisation we work within.

Looking at the points above, how can you nudge your organisation closer to that reality? 

Get the social structure right, and using the community platform will be easy. 


We can't have a head of digital, perhaps, but can we have a single, source, of information for news about the community, smaller work teams, and maybe better casual, social, interaction. 

Small incremental changes will add up to a big change over the course of a year. 

Anyone tell an organisation to use Yammer to communicate with each other internally. Few can design an organisation to thrive using Yammer. 

There are two sides to a successful online community. The online platform and the social structure of the participants. We would benefit from spending as much time on the latter as we do on the former. 

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