As organisations try to harness the power of communities, there is a real risk that they kill them. Well meaning, well intentioned, organisations, but ones who carry existing power dynamics into social spaces. I thought i’d try to illustrate that today, with an example of a learning community, and i’ll tie it into some other recent work on the projection and flow of trust (trust being a dominant force in social spaces).
Once a learning community is coherent (with shared values and purpose), the members can be considered ‘in group’. I explored this dynamic recently, as an early stage #WorkingOutLoud post on group formation and the projection of trust. Within this coherent community, there is low social consequence, high permission to explore, clear remit to learn: it’s a learning space.
Beyond this, we have a new feature of ‘near group’. The community will project trust a certain distance into this community, and will selectively share stories outwards.
Beyond that again, is ‘out group’: these are people who we may be linked to in a formal structure, but who fall outside of our social networks, outside our tribal structures. This is where we experience high dominance of formal authority, high consequence, low permission to dissent, low permission to fail.
We will share different stories in each of these three spaces: vulnerable stories internally, reflective stories may reach to near group, and perfected stories into formal spaces.
Where this becomes relevant is where aspects of the formal structure impose themselves into the coherent social spaces: much as i described earlier this week, the arrival of ‘strangers’ can damage the social dynamic, even knock it out to be incoherent again. We can kill the community, or more likely, drive the conversation out of earshot.
The people interloping into the social space are not bad people trying to wreck it, but typically good people who are curious about it, but that curiosity can kill it. A better approach is to curate storytelling channels, and the best behaviour for formal leaders is to develop their story listening skills, so that they gain a permission to be ‘near group’, and the community will choose to selectively share their story.
As with any aspect of the Social organisation, this is a delicate space: formal hierarchies tend to act as if they own it, and social groups have low permission to reject their advances. Which is why we need Social Leadership: reputation based authority that can be carried beyond the reach of formal power alone