Break down your old silos with strong internal communities

Five old rusting graon silos in Indianola MS

© Tweeter Linder 2017 – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock.

One of the first Digital Transformation obstacles an organization face is how to break down internal silos. Silos built up over years with information separation as a guiding attribute. To lead your team out from a silo environment you need to present something more attractive. The formation of strong internal collaboration communities can be your new recipe. A cooking class where you become king by teaching and learning. A digital place where your staff will come often if designed right.

Thinking and collaborating outside of old silos

Businesses get stress tested on many fronts as they go through their digital transformation. Stress tests that put demand on how fast leaders and contributors can break out from old silo behaviors.

First, business complexity calls for diverse skillsets in your team. A reality where T- π- and #- shaped competence profiles become mission critical. To remain relevant each team member need to assess how they can expand into new knowledge fields. Add to your depth by developing a new area of expertise. Add to your breath by connecting and leveraging peers inside an outside your company. Without a strong individual commitment to develop yourself you will have a hard time to thrive in the new world.

Second, most team members will move between the role as teacher and student daily.  Some will learn new things for the first time in your company. Insights your community can leverage instead of all being first time learners. You handle more new situations, where you are hungry for brief and specific insights. And in innovative and dynamic markets you will move back and forth between the two role on a continuous basis.

Third, we will need to collaborate more to thrive in the digital world. Collaborations with peers in your team. Collaborations with customers and the broader eco-system.

All these factors combined put pressure on your organization to support both team and team members in a new way. A support effort where an internal community can be the glue. Both in breaking down the old silos and establishing new ways of learning and collaborating. Strong internal communities is the foundation in learning organizations. Communities designed for fast learning and frequent collaborations.

The conundrum of getting an internal community off the ground

Anyone that have started a community are aware of double dilemma all communities face from start. Without anyone sharing, you cannot attract readers. And without readers you cannot attract and engage the ones sharing. A generic problem any company providing a platform business model are familiar with.  Take inspiration from sources about platform logics to understand what challenges to expect.

No initiative can expect a perfect growth where producers and consumers thrive in harmony. One of them is likely to play a bigger role than the other is securing the momentum in the community. Identify the trigger and provide extra stimulation and support to that part in the launch stages.

No community work without a tools and a framework. Leverage the forefront in learning and community focused tools. For most communities a good enough tool is already invented, with a strong evolution path into the future. Invest your own resources in framing and managing the community. Your Community Mayor is the most important resource for your initiative to succeed.

Limit your ambition to be good enough from start. Your community will evolve in so many ways you can not foresee. And it is better to get moving with something 80% right than a strive for perfection.

The first job a community must do is to address the consumers

The “customers” in your community are the ones consuming learnings. A job we can describes as “Learn more, faster and in short enough chunks to allow us to use learnings on the spot”. Your consumers need to learn a lot more than they have ever done in the past. When the need to learn occur, the cycle available is short. And the gained insights need to have an immediate value. Expect and order in magnitude in the change required for each reality..

Focus on a few key metrics. Time it takes to find and pick up an insight. Clarity of connection to specific work tasks. Quality in available insights. Number of attractive producers in the community.

The second job focus on the contributing producers

The consumers are dependent on the input from producers. A job centered around the task to “attract and keep producers who contribute and comment around demanded insights”. Producers of insights and learnings need to be passionate about what they do. A big part of their passion come from sharing ideas and insights, to shine in the community. Their contribution needs to be consistent with high quality as one-hit-wonders has weak outlooks. Great producers like gamification tools reflecting their status in the community.

Metrics in this category aim to support producers to deliver the right material to consumers. Clarity in categories for insight mapping. Proven formats for insight sharing. Time required to generate each deliverable. Number of attractive consumers in the community.

And the final job to be done is about serving collaborators

This third job for the community is to stimulate collaborations in the community. A job where “Questions raised in the community get high quality responses with low efforts from all involved”. Great communities are issue or question driven. Each question or issue serve the purpose of framing a challenge where the originator seek help from the community. The best communities are the ones where collaborations develop around crisp input.  And triggering short and intense engagements by the participants. The simpler for both consumers and producers the more “transactions” you will see.

Metrics here are quite different here. Likelihood of finding contributors willing to collaborate in the community. Likelihood of finding the right knowledge in the community. Ability to provide firm borderlines for the collaboration at hand. Ability to frame task in a few key questions.

Question to ask yourself and your team

  1. Which silos do we need to break down to make our community work – understand where you come from.
  2. What is hardest to recruit to your community – expect to attract both teachers and learners to reach critical mass.
  3. Which are the super connectors you bet on to get the initiative going – the vital few working as catalysts.
  4. What represent critical mass for your community – a stage you want to reach before momentum dies out.
  5. What does it take to sustain your community – a hunt for being fresh and to stay relevant.
  6. Which senior leaders need to be engaged to give the right clout to the community – important communities need more than grass roots to thrive.
  7. What are the cornerstones we want to build our community framework around – secure you have a basic structure in place before recruiting producers and consumers.

Additional reading suggestions

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