Thursday, 30 June 2011

Communities at Work - Uncovering their nature

Seems like Communities are becoming a hot topic!  I've had the privilege of speaking about them several times in the last few weeks -  how important they are to learning (I agree totally with Jane Hart - the focus needs to be on the organisation's needs and how they are realised - both by the organisation itself and by individual members of it) .  In this new blog I intend to look at Community at Work" from many different aspects.  I will welcome ideas, contributions and critique from any source - that way we all learn. 

As a first clue I believe it is critical to look at the nature of the organisation and its alignment to community - then the platforms that are appropriate will become clearer.  If the starting point has to be a learning intervention (I hate those words!) then developing a community amongst the learners will certainly enhance both the quality of the learning and its application into the workplace afterwards - but the BIG item here is to design the learning intervention within the context of community, not as an after thought or a "component" . 


(Originally posted at on 28 June 2011)

Much is currently being written about the problems of embracing the Social media in the workplace.  Yes, of course there are risks, as there are to any major change in the way we do our work.  The fears of loss of Intellectual Property are real and need to be guarded against.  Damage to corporate or institutional reputation and image is a myth – that image is already at risk if the company culture is resulting in unhappy employees.  They have access to media that the company does not and can never control.  The remedy is to pay attention to ensuring that employees are happy, engaged and have some pride in the organisation that pays their salary.

Loss of productivity is often quoted as a feared downside of making the social media available to employees.  But do we in our fantasy world imagine that employees are not already, by covert and overt means, failing to deliver optimum productivity?  Whether it is by “stealing” company time to use personal mobile devices to pursue personal matters or whether the company’s bandwidth is being harnessed for personal gain, the issues are already there.  And how is it that attention is now drawn to productivity issues when in the past these have been tolerated, ignored and even tacitly accepted as part of the culture?  Is it just because the digital age means we can now measure these things and the figures that emerge are horrific?  Or is it a deeper reason – that leaders have recognised the collective failure to create and sustain environments in which people will willingly give of their best?  Here now is an opportunity to “show their teeth”!

I believe there is a different reason and one that, if not addressed, will in the next few years lead to the unravelling of institutions that have for a generation seemed to be impregnable. It seems to me that corporate and other enterprise has not yet grasped that the world has changed.  Jay Cross, Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, Charles Jennings, and others have been alerting the world for years that we now live in a networked society, a wierarchy, a world of communities that interlink and overlap in complex ways.  The reason for our difficulty is in failing to grasp a change that has happened – not one that is happening, or that will happen.  It is one that has happened!

The truth is, paradoxically, that actually nothing has changed!  We have as the human race always lived in communities.  What happened over the industrial period was that we kidded ourselves that the world of work was different from life outside the factory and the institution.  Social media with its all-pervasive implications have debunked that illusion and, as people concerned with enterprise health, we need to realise and rediscover that, actually, we are all about community.

Community is as axiomatic to us as is our desire and ability to communicate with one another.  Whether viewed from the lowest levels of the motivational hierarchy or the highest, communicating, being with, and interacting with our fellow human is fundamental.  The hunter gatherer, raiding party, defensive unit, feudal farming co-operative, empire builder, crusader, religious devotee, academic, socialite, politician, industrial magnate, trades unionist, revolutionary, voluntary worker, carer, and the list goes on, we have been and are all involved in community in every aspect of our lives. 

So let us now pay attention to re-discovering what community is about, socially, in our working lives and, pervading all, as a powerful means to optimising our potential for our own, our employers and others benefit.  We need to pay attention to our abilities to engage, trust, share, listen and act in collaboration with others.  Organisation culture will be a huge determinant in corporate survival as the power of community is once again realised. Limiting access to Social Media and a failure to embrace the nature and reality of social learning places our institutions at risk – far more so than the risks associated with inviting employees to be responsible and to participate to their and the organisation’s benefit.

There is a need to rediscover that giving leads to receiving and that knowledge being power is not the route to success.  That lies in ways to discover our potential, to fully exploit it, and to manage and apply the knowledge that comes with it.  Our security on our journey is knowing that we have the support and help of others in the communities to which we belong.  Then there is safety in taking the risks.  The potential benefits are incalculable.