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FAQ: Communities in the context of business

Since my first post on this topic, a few people asked me why I thought communities were a new way to organize and what complexity there was in applying communities to a business setting (i.e. for-profit organizations). I have defined what is a community in a business context and some of the rules they follow. Below are some of the recurring questions and their associated answer.

In a business context, what is a community?

In a business context, communities are similar to functional departments with some fundamental distinctions. In traditional setting, members of a functional department or of a project team work together to achieve a goal. With some exceptions, team members share nothing but their common goal and a common boss. By comparison, in addition to sharing a common goal members within a community also share common values and culture and they operate within agreed upon self-defined norms. I provided a few examples here.

Why are communities in the context of business different from other communities?

Communities that come together to carry out a goal are common but communities that aim to generate revenue to autonomously support themselves are no frequent. In traditional for-profit organizations, shareholders through board members select the management team for the organization. The management team (President, CEO, COO, etc.) become accountable to the board for their performance and as such almost always use a top-down (command-and-control) approach.

By contrast, communities rely on a bottom-up approach to decide their goals and those are seldom oriented toward profit.

Aren’t communities completely disorganized and as such, couldn’t work in a business context?

Communities could be disorganized but they wouldn’t be effective. Communities typically set up rules that will allow them to work efficiently. What may seem like disorganized entities within traditional organizations may actually bring better results.

In certain situation, a larger community may ask sub-communities to run within certain guideline and as such, would cut disorganization.

Why use communities as organizational structure?

Because communities are living cells, they are components of a living organism and are able to adapt to their environment.

A community can be born, live and die. A community arises when 2 people come together around a common goal, and decide to form a community.

A community dies when less than 2 people deploy energy to sustain it.

What rules govern a community?

I already provided an answer in this post but typically, communities work by the rules defined by their members. Some rules are implicit while others are explicit and clearly adapted to the needs of the community. The community may decide to create a space for expression and revision of its rules.

In his blog (English translation by google) Tremeur talked about the notion of rules and how they are relevant to the functioning of communities.

How can someone join a community?

Individuals can join a community by expressing their interest in the community, ensuring they are motivated by the goals the community has set, and by adhering to the rules of that community. Further information on this topic can be found in this post.

Can a community expel a member?

According to the rules under which it operates, the community may choose to expel one of its members. It is important to establish that the decision to evacuate a member is serious and can not be done without the approval of the majority (or unanimity) of group members.

An individual is part of a community if he is active in this community. Being active in the community means to actively and positively contribute to achieving the goals set by the community by working with other members of this community. If an individual is not active in a community, it is not part of that community (even if his name appears in the list of members).

How many communities can an individual belong to?

People can belong to as many communities as they wish. Individuals alone are responsible for setting their limit.

What is the largest number of members in a community?

There is no set limit.

If the number of members is jeopardizing the operational effectiveness of the community (9 members in a team would be a reasonable number), then it is likely that the community will divide itself into 2 communities, each pursuing different sub-objectives.

What is the role of leader of the community?

A leader is appointed only if the community decides to appoint one, and its role is defined by the community. Typically,

  • the leader ensures the respect of the common rules that the community has given itself;
  • the leader ensures that the community is visible and transparent;
  • the leader is the one who will link with other communities.

Who chooses the leader of a community?

Unlike traditional businesses where leaders (managers) are selected or appointed by their supervisor, the leader of a community is chosen democratically by the members of the community. Similar to the concept of holacracy, the leader emerges from the group because of its expertise and its commitment to advancing the community towards achieving the goals it has set.

Are all communities are connected?

Maybe, maybe not.

The link between 2 communities may be at least 2 kinds:

  • members belonging to more than 1 community;
  • a need expressed by a community for the services provided by another.

A community that needs support or resources from another community therefore becomes automatically linked to another community.

Can a community exist independently?

If it apart from other communities, the answer is “yes”: For example, communities of practice are primarily in service to their members, and this is enough.

Is that all communities have financial goals?

No. Basically, communities set their own goals.

As a commercial enterprise, some communities have financial goals to make sure growth and sustainability of the organization.

By contrast, other communities will be directly or indirectly serving communities with financial goals but will not themselves financial targets.

Other communities are communities of interest and have no link with strict financial targets.

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