5 books that have influenced how I think about healthy team work

In a series of 3 earlier posts, I shared some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this new instalment of the series I add five books that I’ve found useful when thinking about how we create healthy teams where trust and learning together are at the centre of our interactions.

1. “Dare to Lead” – Brené Brown

If you’re already familiar with Brené Brown’s work you’ll know how much she’s done already to bring discussions about shame, resilience and belonging to the fore. It’s no surprises then that the next step on her research (and book) journey is to apply those themes to the topic of leadership. She focuses here on how we can create workplaces that are emotionally safe and welcoming while allowing us to work through and learn from challenging situations.

I particular appreciated the table of armoured versus daring leadership. It compares our sometimes habitual behaviours such as cynicism or numbing (where we fiddle constantly with our phones, go to nightly happy hours or some other tactic to avoid uncomfortable feelings) to the daring versions – being hopeful or sitting with discomfort to see what it might show us.

I did not find this an easy read – it definitely challenges the reader to work on themselves. Yet it provides very vivid perspectives about how taking responsibility for our emotions can lead to more fulfilling, collaborative relationships at work.

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Social learning spaces – and how community managers help make room for uncertainty

In the fellowship program that I run for scientific community managers we often refer to how a community manager needs to “create the space” for productive interactions to occur between community members. Other variants of the phrase that I’ve heard or used are “creating the container”, “tilling the soil” or “holding the crucible” in which the alchemy of new knowledge generation happens. But what does this somewhat cryptic phrase “creating the space” actually mean? We’re not literally talking about moving chairs out of the way or building a box big enough to hold people in, are we?

Diving lessons – how do we hold uncertainty together in a learning space? Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlemunicipalarchives/2650415742/in/photostream/

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Navigating knowledge landscapes – the role of community managers as guides

In July, I participated in an inspiring 4-day retreat led by Bev Trayner and Etienne Wenger – social learning theorists and consultants who have written extensively about communities of practice and how cultivation of knowledge is a group-mediated activity. Each morning at the retreat we explored their current thinking about social learning, enjoying much time for discussion of the ideas as a group. One model that particularly resonated with me was that of the knowledge landscape.

In this metaphor, communities of practice can be imagined as hills or mountains of expertise within a landscape. The mountains can vary in height, depending on the amount of knowledge contained, and the slope of the mountain indicates the gradient of learning or the curriculum that a new member of the community would need to follow in order to progress up the mountain to expert level. A steep slope indicates that it’s harder to master the knowledge in that community, whereas a more gentle gradient allows for working more leisurely within the learner’s comfort zone.

How steep is the learning curve in your community of practice?
Image credit: author’s own

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Community Manager musings: Four reasons coordinators of communities of practice can fail

Community manager musings is a series of occasional posts looking at the roles and skills of community managers – usually within science. 

“Gah! It’s all Greek to me!” One form of failure in building a community of practice comes from lack of domain expertise.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/

Nurturing and growing a successful community of practice is a delicate balance of activities where the intention is to create a vibrant group of members interested in honing their craft in a particular domain that they share.

Communities can fail for any of a number of reasons – but in communities of practice Wenger et al., mention four key causes that are due specifically to how the community manager’s role is carried out.

  1. Time
  2. Balance between public and private spaces
  3. Pro-active networking
  4. Technical / domain knowledge

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Community Manager musings: How do you define a community manager?

Community manager musings is a series of occasional posts looking at the roles and skills of community managers – usually within science. 

What do you call a professional cat herder? Adapted from original image here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rbowen/1148435913/

I’ve been having a series of conversations recently about how we define community and what different types of communities look like. As people are realising that many of the programs and activities that they coordinate have community at their core, they’ve then begun to ask: am I a community manager? What defines a community manager?

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Community orientations and technology – what features does your online community need?

Recently, I’ve been exploring “Digital Habitats” by Wenger, White and Smith, which talks about the role of technology stewards in selecting, implementing and encouraging adoption of online tools and community platforms. Tech stewards sound like a very specific type of community manager.

Use this wheel to mark out the importance of the 9 different orientations to your community.
Image credit: http://technologyforcommunities.com/2010/07/putting-our-diagrams-to-work/

The book has lots of practical advice about the use of technology by communities of practice. While the overall menu of different tools and features that are available to a community may be large, typically members will not need them all because their community will be focused on only a few activities. The authors call these different types of group needs “orientations” and list out nine of them.

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Community Manager musings: Technical stewards – community managers with toolkits!

Community manager musings is a series of occasional posts looking at the roles and skills of community managers – usually within science. 

What’s in a community manager’s toolkit? As technology stewards they may choose, use and support multiple tools.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elkokoparrilla/5106301020/

 

As we’ve been exploring on this blog, community managers can exist in different types of communities within science, and their role can have a variety of names, depending on what they’re doing and what kind of organisation they’re working for. In my latest reading I’ve been learning about the role of the technology steward – a term coined by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John D.Smith and described in their 2009 book, “Digital Habitats.”

Their description states that a technology steward…

“…adopts a community’s perspective to help a community choose, configure and use technologies to best serve its needs. Tech stewards attend both to what happens spontaneously and what can happen purposefully, by plan and by cultivation of insights into what actually works.”

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