The Power of Communities

Community of crows in a treeI am a strong believer in the power of communities (both personal and professional) to help us think through the difficulties we face, and solve our problems. Here are some examples from my own experiences, but since I think of the readers of this blog as part of my community I’d love to hear from you about your experiences.

Building a Community

I was teaching a training course recently. It was one of a series of similar courses across a single company and one of its most important goals was to help the organization build up an internal community whose members would support each other long after the course had finished. All the students worked in different roles, and often for different teams, within this company.

The teaching approach for achieving this course goal is obvious.  Show, don’t tell.

One morning we were discussing supplier management and how important it is to build up good working relationships with your suppliers. I asked the students for some examples of supplier relationships that didn’t work very well for them, and one of the students told us about a contract they had for software support. This student was based in Europe, while the supplier’s software development team was based in India. The student explained what the problems were: the supplier always promised things that they couldn’t deliver; the supplier regularly failed to meet agreed deadlines; the supplier consistently failed to meet customer expectations.

I asked the other students what they thought could be done to improve the situation. There were lots of suggestions, many of them quite plausible. Eventually one student, who had been listening attentively but not yet offered any ideas, spoke up.

This student was based in India where he managed the company’s helpdesk. He was able to offer some crucial insight into the culture of the supplier’s organization and to point out some inaccurate assumptions that were being made about the supplier’s business approach. His suggestions were incredibly useful in helping the software development team reframe their approach to conversations with their Indian-based counterparts. This fed naturally into a long discussion with the students about helping each other by building up a community, about the importance of recognizing that everybody has something to contribute, and the importance of taking responsibility for contributing what we know.

What I found most interesting about this exchange is that it had never previously occurred to any of the people who worked for this company in Europe that they could talk to their colleagues in India about the local culture and learn from them how to work with the software development company. Community isn’t only about experts sharing their wisdom. Everybody has experience and knowledge to share, and every member of a community can make suggestions that might help other people, or stimulate someone else’s ideas.

Mentoring

When I worked for a large multi-national company I ran a scheme to help people find IT service management (ITSM) mentors; and since I am a firm believer in the value of mentoring I always had a few mentoring relationships of my own. 

One of the most interesting facts about these relationships is that whenever I was someone’s mentor, I would learn as much as the person I was mentoring. As we talked about the issues they faced, and their ideas for dealing with them, I would contribute ideas, but I would also learn from the things they had tried without my input, the things they were planning to try next, and how things worked out in practice.

Similarly, when someone else was mentoring me, we would have wide ranging discussions about all sorts of topics. Each idea that one of us offered would stimulate a thought from the other, and I am quite sure that they learned as much as I did.

Over the years I have had many mentors, and I have mentored many people. I still call on these relationships many years later to help others and to stimulate other community activities. Mentoring is a great way to build or strengthen a community. As people start and end mentoring relationships they build ties that can help to grow trust, and knowledge.

If you’ve never been in a mentoring relationship, then I do strongly recommend that you try it. Look around for someone you respect and ask them to mentor you. Offer to mentor one or two of your colleagues. You may be surprised by how much you learn from the experience, and how useful it is in helping you to build your community.

Public and Private Communities

I believe it’s important that every organization builds up their own community. You can share things that may be confidential to your organization, and in any case it’s much easier than sharing them with the wider ITSM community, because people in your organization already have an understanding of the context.

But there is also a value in joining and contributing to communities outside your organization. This will give you access to a much wider range of people and their ideas.

The IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) is one example of such a community. I have been a member of itSMF UK for many years now. This organization runs meetings where we discuss all sorts of issues relating to ITSM. It is where I learned to be a public speaker, and they also gave me some early opportunities to write about ITSM and be published. Other organizations that can give you similar opportunities to network, present, and learn include HDI and ISACA, or if you are in the UK, SITS and BCS. If you aren’t a member of one of these, then do some research and see what’s happening locally to you.

Finally, there is social media. Most of my community building recently has been done via social media of one sort or another. If you use Facebook then there’s a group called Back2ITSM, which is one of the best places I know for discussing issues related to ITSM. The people are friendly and welcoming, and there is a real sense of wanting to help. There is also a lot of discussion about ITSM on Twitter, if you search for the hashtag #ITSM then you’ll quickly find out who’s worth following to give you regular ideas on the subject.

Conclusion

We are all members of lots of communities. If ITSM is a significant part of your role, then you owe it to yourself to join one or more ITSM communities so you can learn and grow. Find people in your own organization and see if you can share ideas, but also look for local groups such as itSMF and HDI, and join social media groups such as Back2ITSM.

Please share your ideas with me of how we can build ITSM communities – I still have a lot to learn.

 

Picture Credit: Sharon Mollerus

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