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Why Most Internal Communities Fail (and How To Fix It)

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Imagine an organisation divided into clearly defined units (divisions, groups, teams etc…). Now imagine the following:

  • Each unit recruits newcomers like themselves (similar skills and personalities to existing members).
  • Units are tasked to achieve specific objectives for which they’re given rewards if they succeed and punished if they failed.
  • Units compete for limited resources or rewards. This includes promotions to senior levels.
  • Each unit hosts their own meetings and often refer negatively to other units. This language becomes internalised among the group.
  • Each unit is responsible for inducting newcomers to the group without outside interference.
  • Informal social contact between units is limited. Members connect only through forced social activities or pure necessity.

This is going to create silos. Each unit will hoard their own assets and resources (time, money, manpower and knowledge) instead of sharing them for the benefit of the business.

A silo is when units put themselves before the organisation. They consider themselves members of the unit first, members of the organisation a distant second.

Don’t Graft Clean Skin On Broken Bones

An internal community won’t solve this. You can’t graft a technological skin on broken social bones. You need to strengthen the bones first.

That’s usually going to include:

  • Establishing superordinate goals and enemies. Ensure the team leaders refer to the superordinate goals and enemies, not to other units as the ‘the other’.
  • Internalise the goals. Check that the goals of the organisation are being internalised by both new and existing members. Lip service is easy, but do members hold deep conviction of the goals? If not, they need to be persuaded with both emotional and factual information in non-unit groups.
  • Share the fruits of success by organisation results. Don’t reward each unit on individual performance, give each unit a % of the organisation’s performance. Don’t individually incentive individual units.
  • Higher levels of shared knowledge. Increase the level of overall knowledge about the topic or organisation newcomers must acquire. Use rotation schemes to make every newcomer and existing member aware of what each other unit is doing.
  • Increasing diversity. Tackle microcultures and groupthink by co-recruiting newcomers with both unit members and others throughout the organisation. Don’t let individual units recruit new members alone, have others from the organisation involved. Ensure those doing the recruiting represent a diverse group.
  • Create temporary task action teams. Create new time-limited teams to tackle priority problems. Pull members from different units. Ensure the level of intermixing between different units is high. Each person in a unit should have a shared history with people in other units.

An internal community platform will allow everyone to collaborate and share information with each other. But no matter how easy it is to us, it’s not going to motivate people to want to use it.

An internal community platform only works if there is a genuine internal community to use it. You have to build that sense of community first. That’s a far bigger project than you probably imagine right now.

That’s going to mean every day persuading, cajoling, and overcoming resistance. That’s going to mean a lot of decisions about whether to pressure people to follow the steps above or rely on persuading them to do it. But unless you’re going to take on this work, it’s pointless building an internal community platform.

If you’re not going to make a genuine effort to build an internal community, don’t get an internal community platform.

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