From Leading my Team to Engaging a Community

by Didier Marlier on Friday February 7th, 2020

No! I am not back to my Hippie times when I was teaching Rock Stars to ski or playing ice hockey as a goalie… This is what I looked like then, for those who doubt I ever had hair!

The reason for talking about “Engaging a Community” is that it becomes increasingly relevant in the Disruption Economy!

The Disruption Economy will strongly impact the way we consider Strategy, Organization and Leadership. As I like to explain, it will demand to evolve:

  • From Strategy (a document summarizing the reflections of a selected few in their Ivory tower) to Strategize (a process of “intelligentization”, engagement and development of the whole organization)
  • From Organizations (Pyramidal, hierarchical and siloed) to Organisms (Purpose-led, collective and agile)
  • From “Leading when we (think we) know” to “Leading when we don’t know”.

It is in that context that we see the phenomenon of “Corporate Communities” rapidly emerge.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • Why do matrix organizations (such a great concept though) provoke so many frictions and frustration?
  • Why were you promised, in the latest reorg’, that the power balance would shift in your favour and, far from that, you now realize that you are “a general without an army”?
  • Why does your own leader seem incapable (unwilling?) to align everyone behind the same objective (aka. yours!) and arbitrate (in your favour) when “they” don’t follow your instructions?

The answer is that your organization is probably moving away from being… an organization towards becoming an organism and that your success, as a leader, increasingly depends on how you engage those outside your team, to form Communities. What is the difference between Teams and Communities?

In a team:

  • The leadership and authority, the role and the hierarchy are clearly defined. There is a nominated boss and people in her team report to her
  • Their objectives are aligned, they shouldn’t conflict with each other and all should aim at fulfilling the objectives of the leader
  • Members may discuss, disagree, be creative vis à vis the leader’s injunctions but, at the end of the day, they will adhere or leave
  • A team has clearly defined boundaries, rules, roles, objectives
  • Teams tend to operate in “silos” and may “bond” against other teams.

A community is a very different breed of animal:

  • You have no authority on the people who choose to join it. They have other bosses!
  • Their objectives are not yours, and between them, they can even be conflicting. But the quality of the relationship will make them solve it without a forceful “Salomon Judgment” of the leader!
  • You can’t force them to join your community: They don’t report to you, you aren’t the “hand who feeds them” and, often, supporting your project isn’t even part of their objectives and its success or failure will have no or little impact on their career
  • They are “free agents” who won’t even need to publicly challenge you: they simply have to hold their energy back, consider your project as No 3 priority… and your plane won’t take-off!
  • Communities have no boundaries, as little structure as possible. They tend to involve, not exclude, appreciate differences, not uniformity, they “Bridge rather than bond”.

Leading a team requires leadership. My Community (The Enablers Network) invest its time and passion into sharing our best knowledge with participants joining our learning experiences. But what differs when you seek to engage a Community?

  • Joining a Community is a free act. I can be forced to but will leave my energy, know-how and passion at my desk! The first thing you need to reflect on is about the Purpose of your Community. How may it connect with people Deep Intent? Your Community’s Purpose has to be Meaningful, one I want to be part of:  It is Personal, Emotional and has a Rationale, I see how I can support it!
  • Invite don’t summon: Members of a Community are very sensitive to respect and they way they are invited to join the Community. The “Tell and Sell” (ordering, directing, convincing) styles will fail. “Involving and Devolving” (inviting, respecting, empowering) will be a better bet!
  • It is your neck but it all relies on their goodwill: Yes, the pressure on you is high to deliver results and “sort this team out!”. Hence the temptation of ordering, structuring and directing. Unwillingly, we pass on our stress and pressure to members of the community. And that is the best way to turn volunteers into deserters, goodwill into opposition. If you want to maintain their engagement:
    • Connect: Ensure that your Community is a forum where people who do not necessarily know, appreciate nor understand each other will create a vibrant network, inside and… outside of your Community
    • Excite: People should join you because your Community and you have created a pleasant and exciting atmosphere (remember? Psychological Safety)
    • Enjoy the time spent together: Make sure that “the smell of the place” is different in your Community from the traditional atmosphere of the organization. If people see your Community as a place where they learn, explore, have dinners together and get to know each other, they will request more meetings!
    • Surprize them: Fascinate and surprise them. I was recently with a German CEO in a meeting for the Asian part of his company. He had simply brought outstanding chocolates which he was sharing each day of the week at the moment our energy was low. It was simple, human and surprising!
    • Produce Results: and of course, a Community is not a Club. It needs to produce results otherwise it will be disbanded. Make sure you celebrate those victories!

When looking for a clip illustrating a Community, apart from music of the 70’s, not much showed up. Hence I chose to share this exceptional moment in a recent Santana show at the Montreux Jazz Festival. His band is a community and… it sees!

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6 Responses to “From Leading my Team to Engaging a Community”

  1. I love your distinction: from organization to organism.

    Even organisms have structure and principles … just different based on Collaboration, innovation, interacting with and acting upon the environment or external context with intention, ultimately to achieve a purpose – deliver results. Some different values, priorities and ways of being.

    Thanks for this. It spawns some good reflections. I’ll share how my thinking evolves.

    Reply
    • Thank you dear Bob,
      Indeed organisms also have structures and principles. But, as you hint, in their case, they do not (as many organizations do) let the procedure become the Purpose. They need to be fully supporting the purpose or no one will follow them. That is what makes them… fun, agile and aligned.
      I look forward to see how your thinking evolves. Take care mate
      Didier

      Reply
  2. May I suggest one addition to your excellent ‘engaging a community’ checklist, from a community member’s view?
    As you mention, time and work pressures mean we will be selective about which communities we really commit to, but we don’t know exactly what they will be like until we are ‘in’. We will connect with some but perhaps less with others. And if we are not able to express our concerns and have them answered we may quickly ‘sign out’. Hence ‘Listening’ is also a key part of engaging, especially with a next gen workforce. Town hall meetings, personal connections, or the use of appropriate employee engagement software (an emerging tool) may all work to pick out unmet needs or concerns of core members and new recruits before dissatisfaction leads to defection.

    Reply
    • Wonderful, dear Don. I fully agree with your point. It reinforces the one I am trying to make: You can’t force people to bring their heart and soul (what IMD faculty Chris Parker named, discretionary effort) to work. You need to engage them. And listening is fundamental here. Thank you for taking the time to read, reflect and feedback!
      Take care

      Reply
  3. Hi Didier,
    Thank you for this article.
    Just a question, do you this that a leader could manage an organism inside an organization? I mean being able to lead his own team inside a more rigid structure? My point is to ask you if you have seen some change management leaders who were able to do it? Kind of a bottom up change management…
    Have a great day
    Damien

    Reply
    • Thank you dear Damien for your feedback and relevant question.
      I guess it is a matter of personal conviction and attitude (translated in behaviours). A friend of mine (we did our MBA together a few 😉 years ago, explained, following the article, that this was something he was encouraging his team to do (he runs the Strategy department) of a large multinational).
      It takes time and won’t revolutionize the whole company structure, but it is a start…
      And, remembering you clearly, you have what it takes to launch that movement!
      Have a good evening
      Didier

      Reply

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