Denmark, 1998. Lego Mindstorms, a series of customizable and hardware-controllable robots, hits the market. It doesn’t take long for the first adult Lego fans to hack the software and start customizing the robots to their liking. The results are presented on users’ own websites and forums. Lego has two options:
- Proceed legally against the hackers or
- Invite them to work together on products.
Lego opts for the latter – and thus, unplanned, initiates a customer community.
Today, 20 years later, communities are gaining ground in very different contexts, whether it’s analog via coworking spaces and social movements (such as Fridays for Future) or virtual via social networks and forums. Communities often combine virtual networking with offline formats.
What makes such a community?
- Members have similar interests.
- They communicate at eye level.
- They adhere to certain rules and values (disregarding this leads to exclusion from the community).
- The community is basically open to everyone.
The currency in communities is exchange among members. It brings added value to each and every one of them in the form of new information, new knowledge, advice, inspiration and collaboration – that is, what knowledge management in companies is aiming for. Or rather, should aim for. What customer communities are for product development, employee communities are for knowledge management in companies.
Why Should Companies Promote the Development of Employee Communities?
Professionals with a digital mindset find it difficult to fit into fixed, hierarchical structures. They are accustomed to sharing their thoughts and ideas with others, informing themselves through various channels, and quickly communicating with people from their network. A new contact is often just a click or intro through a person on the network away. They act on the conviction that only with openness and inclusion of different perspectives can something good come about – also because they have experienced it exactly like that many times before. They are team players. Isn’t that exactly what companies need more of than ever?
Then it’s time to rethink!
The idea that only a certain person in a certain position with certain skills and certain access rights to information can solve a complex problem has had its day! The best solutions emerge when people come together from completely different walks of life and experiences, and, moreover, have the freedom to translate their ideas into concrete action.
Build Employee Communities: Where to Start?
Of course, employee communities are not an end in and of themselves. They should serve the employees and the company. In the beginning, there is the question of WHY – Why do we want to work in a more networked way? What do we hope for? What kind of networking do we need in order to work well? These questions should also, above all, be asked by people who are part of, or want to become part of, a community. On this basis, very different communities can form in a company, such as:
- Communities with people in special stages of life; e.g., parents or senior citizens
- Skill-related communities; e.g., marketing or IT
- Thematic communities; e.g., sustainability or leadership
Themes and needs can change again and again; communities can be formed or disappear. All the more important are tools that make it easy for employees to build communities. For example, automated matching makes it easy to find and connect people with similar issues and interests in a business. Combined with good community management and formats that promote exchange beyond virtual communication, this creates a lot of room for creativity and innovation.
What Characterizes an Employee Community?
- Your members have similar (professional) interests, work areas and/or living environments.
- They communicate quickly and easily within the community, online and offline.
- The communities are open to everyone, regardless of position or department.
- The members share the values of the company and act as amplifiers in the community.
- They are often well networked outside of the community, gaining inspiration, knowledge and advice through a variety of internal and external channels and transferring this information to the company.
And Lego? It’s still the largest toy manufacturer in the world. So, it pays to question previous paradigms and be open to new ways of doing things.
Our matching software supports internal corporate community building by bringing employees together for a wide variety of work models and tasks. You are welcome to book a web demo to gain insight into our 18 areas of use.