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Posts tagged ‘community’

Rebuilding Companies as Communities

In a post on our internal wiki, Eric suggested we have a look at a recent HBR article by Henry Mintzberg – Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure within our company, Eric knew that the article would be of interest to those of us who believe in the community structure as well as to those who doubt this is a viable organizational model.

Beneath the current economic crisis lies another crisis of far greater proportions: the depreciation in companies of community—people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. Decades of short-term management, in the United States especially, have inflated the importance of CEOs and reduced others in the corporation to fungible commodities—human resources to be “downsized” at the drop of a share price. – Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure

I need to clarify that in our context, a community is different than the one frequently understood of a social community. Our communities are true business units and need to be financially self-sufficient (they need to generate enough revenue to support their cost structure).

As I presented a few months ago, we have taken the community approach to organize our various departments and we recently realized that we needed a central community to organize – at least in the short term – the work of the various communities. We humoursly called it the BOSS for Bureau d’Organisation et de Support aux Services, in French for Office of Organization and Support Service.

The BOSS’ Mission

The BOSS coordinates and dissiminates relevent business information, and provides support to the various communities in order for them to achieve their goals.
  • Crystallizes information for the communities to help them develop their strategy;
  • Acts as the conduit and diffuser of the strategic and tactical information relevant to the achievement of objectives;
  • Ensures transparency and compliance with the financial capability (definition and monitoring of the budget) of the communities;
  • Guides the communities to be effective in their orientation;
  • Establishes the context for evaluating the contribution of the communities (financial, vision, strategy);
  • Maintains the social architecture of the communities;
  • Acts as a sounding board for new initiatives;
  • Maintains and prioritizes the backlog of initiatives;
  • Detects and offers points of improvement;
  • Organizes monthly meetings;
  • Organizes bi-annual Strategic Cafés.
There are 5 members on this committee with a 6 months term. All members have been elected by the community to represent their interest and make the best decisions for the organization.


  • All employees must be part of at least one sub-community.

Defined Processes

To create a community: The community should establish and implement a business plan that seeks profitability and submit it to the BOSS for approval. Each community must define its own rules of participation.

To end a community: The criteria and details for this process will be detailed shortly.

Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Is the BOSS responsible for setting the strategy?

No, the mission of the BOSS is to support the communities in preparing their strategy. It is up to each of the existing communities to establish its own strategy. On the other hand, the BOSS will ensure that a strategy is in place for each community and will assist the communities who need to create their strategy. As stated in its mission, the BOSS is responsible to channel and catalyze the information to help the various communities.

What should communities report to the BOSS?

In line with their business plan, each community will present its progress and key performance indicators in line with achieving their objectives.

I have an idea to launch a new community, what do I do?

Talk to your BOSS representative. You may also consult the internal wiki where you will find the information you need to provide to the BOSS to launch your community. There are meetings every month during which new ideas and opportunities will be presented and evaluated. If your idea is accepted, you will be allocated financial resources allocated according to the needs outlined in your strategy.

Our implementation of the community structure has hit bumps along the way but to date, it seems to be a viable alternative to traditional organizational structures. As with many innovations, we need to make sure we adapt the model to our reality in order for it to be an efficient structure.

A Few Quotes from Peter Senge on Communities

In chapter 10 (Shared Vision) of his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Peter Senge’s touches on the topic of Communities.

Below are some quotes I got from the book. I wrote these down a few months ago.

  • Communities are not held together by what people can get, communities are held together by what people can give;
  • People come together voluntarily;
  • People want to contribute something toward what they care about;
  • Communities have a genuine spirit of shared vision;
  • People are naturally drawn to other people who share the same vision, they start to talk and get together for the sake of the goal of the community;
  • Start talking about the real reason we are getting together, even if we don’t work for the same company.

Within Pyxis, we are pushing the implementation of communities further with positive results. I’ll be sharing more information on our progress in an upcoming post.

Rules aren’t created for those who will comply

I already wrote about our non-traditional organizational structure and the increasing reliance on communities the organize our teams. I recently had an interesting conversation about the use of rules within communities and within the overall organization.

Breaking the rules

The conversation went something like this.

  • Dan – “We already use self-organized teams and increasingly rely on communities to get our goals done. Why do we need to add formal rules? Isn’t this against our approach of trusting people?”
  • Me – “Implementing rules doesn’t mean we don’t trust people. The rules are simply there to help everyone understand which behaviors are acceptable so our community can work efficiently.”
  • Dan – “This goes against self-organized teams. If the teams want to work without rules, they should be allowed to.”
  • Me – “Yes, but only up to a certain point. Without rules you will quickly get chaos and anarchy. I believe rules should disappear over time but they are initially required to help regulate the actions of the group.”
  • Dan – “I believe we shouldn’t have any rules. If I want to do something, I don’t want any stupid rules to prevent me from doing it…”
  • Me [light bulb goes on in my head] – I wonder if people oppose rules because they may (want to) break them…

This question quickly lead me to the debate around the proposed legislation to reduce the blood-alcohol level from 80 to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. A similar public debate was launched when Quebec decided to experiment with photo radar a few months ago. In both cases, it seemed to me that the arguments often used to oppose such rules are that they go against people’s freedom. Although the rules make sense, you will find many people who will oppose the rules pretending they interfere with their freedom of choice and action.

It appears to me that the people who oppose rules may eventually break them and as such, anticipate being caught. Keep in mind that rules are very rarely opposed by those who will comply with them.

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.

How can someone Join a Community? Can people leave a Community?

Joining a Community is Simple

Everyone can ask to join a community if it is open to integrate new members. Once again, the community decides how many members it will allow and which skill set, profile and experience is required to qualify. Assuming the community is accepting new members, anybody who believes they meet the requirements may ask to join the community.

Leaving a Community is Simple

Based on the norms established by the community, people may leave with (or without) advanced notice. Communities are usually fluid and allow for members to join and leave in order to support the emergence of new ideas and new energy to reach the set objectives.

In order not to disrupt significantly the activities of the community, members are usually required to provide advanced notice to the other community members.

The Community May Ask People to Leave

Norms vary for each communities but in our situation there is a fundamental rule that states the “no single individual can have authority over another individual”. As such, community members cannot be expelled or fired based on the decision of a single individual, including the community leader. Community members who fail to comply to the norms and values of their group may be asked to leave if the majority of community members support the decision.

As in the case of a voluntary departure, the community is required to provide advanced notice to the member they wish to expel.

For more content on the topic of communities, you may follow the community tag.

What Rules Do Communities Follow?

The answer to that question is simple: NONE.

It is not that communities are disorganized and chaotic but Our Communities do not follow rules as they are currently understood and documented. The Merriam-Webster dictionnary defines rules as “a prescribed guide for conduct or action” or “the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members“. By that definition, rules are very strict and typically defined by the leading members of the group.

Our communities use norms to organize themselves and ensure common understanding. As per wikipedia, norms “are the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors“.

Each community defines its set of norms under which they wish to operation. To ensure the community is linked to other communities, the group must ensure their norms are inline with the norms of the greater community to which they belong.

Some norms may be identical for all the communities (i.e. freedom of expression) while some communities may have specifics expectations (i.e. specific time commitment).

Typically, more norms are required at the early stages of a community to create a common culture and set of values and to prevent abuse. As the community matures, less norms are required and the community self-regulates. It is critical for the norms to be clearly communicated at the entry point in order to avoid misunderstanding and confusion later in time.

In the end, the level of freedom and the type of structure used by each community is never as important as the results they achieve.

What is a Community?

Before going into the organization, the structure, the rules, and the modus operandi of a community, I must start with a definition to allow for a common understanding of what I will be discussing in the various posts on this topic.


A community is a group of individuals who share common values and culture, who operate within agreed upon self-defined norms, and that work together to achieve a goal. Members clearly identify themselves as belonging to the community.

A community can be composed of smaller communities and communities can be connected together creating a network of communities.


The Open Source movement qualifies as a community. Within the Open Source movement are smaller communities such as the Apache HTTP Server, the Linux operating system, and the Mozilla Firefox browser.

Crowdsourcing is another example of a community of individuals coming together to perform a specific task.

From an art perspective, Community Theatre is an example of individuals contributing to developing and performing art within a specific context.

Community and Business?

In an attempt to document an alternate way of structuring for-profit organizations, I will share my thoughts on the structure, the rules, and the modus operandi of communities and attempt to demonstrate they can effectively be used within that context.

More to come…

Non Traditional Organizations – The Community Structure

A few weeks ago, I presented the organizational structure used for our Monthly Strategic Meetings. Since then, I had the opportunity to read: The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What MattersThe Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, and The Right Use of Power and attended an interesting session at Agile 2009.

As I was walking the kids to school one morning, everything fell into place. Communities could be the new way of structuring organizations.

Most organizations are still structured around hierarchies – top-down command and control structures. Some have move towards a matrix type organization and very few organizations adopted other types of structure. As part of an ongoing experiment, we (at Pyxis) are trying to move away from traditional organizational structures while still remaining a profitable organization. Evacuating the financial aspect might allow for even more creative organizational type but generating profit is one of the constraint we are dealing with.

In an attempt to provide information about the Community Structure, I will add content in various blog posts over the next few weeks with the objective of documenting what it means to operate an organization as if it was a community of communities.

I invite you to share your thoughts and experience on this topic.

Join us on Ning, a community to share thoughts and best practices in Agile BI 

Many people have a blog in which they share great ideas to improve the success rate of BI projects. In order to aggregate all this useful information, I have created a community to share thoughts and best practices to improve the success rate of business intelligence projects using Agile methods. 

The objective is to build a community around this specific area of expertise and aggregate blogs.

Join us.