Building an internal community begins with a preliminary analysis that aims at uncovering the challenges facing the organization, and the people that work in it.
The focus of the analysis should be on the needs of a well-defined target audience (i.e. the employees,) and not only on those of the organization.
Thus. it is important to discuss the audience needs with potential users and other stakeholders and to articulate preliminary premises of the community you aspire to build.
The organization’s perspective vs. the employees’ perspective
Building an internal community requires a preliminary analysis that focuses on two main questions: What are the core challenges that the community is meant to solve? And what are the needs that the community is expected to fulfill? In order to build a thriving community, these questions should be examined holistically. Therefore, both the organization’s perspective and the employees’ perspective should be examined.
Internal communities are built to cope with and fulfill different challenges and needs.
The following are examples that may represent the organization’s perspective:
- To improve employees’ knowledge sharing
- To increase awareness of the organization’s activities
- To enable communication across all levels
- To reduce training costs
Likewise, the following are examples that may represent the employees’ perspectives:
- To have easy access to learning materials
- To expand professional knowledge
- To increase networking opportunities
- To have a platform to express their thoughts and ideas
An examination of both perspectives is essential for building the community as it will enable the definition of a cohesive community concept that addresses both the organization and its employees’ needs.
The insiders’ insights
The best way to examine the organization’s and the employees’ perspectives is to conduct research inside the organization. The process of building an internal community requires a collection of the insiders’ insights. The insiders that can give the organization’s point of view are primary stakeholders, decision-makers, and senior managers. Their familiarity with the business goals enables them to share their knowledge and insights about the organization’s challenges and needs that the community should tackle. In contrast, the employees’ point of view can be obtained by contacting potential founding members (a core group of employees who will help you launch the community) and asking them to share their insights. The insights can be collected in different ways. For example, through a survey, questionnaire, or simply by talking to the relevant people. In any case, the questions should aim at revealing the current state of the organization and the issues that the community should address. For instance, questions such as what knowledge resources are available? what collaboration practices are currently being used? which systems, processes, and tools are presently applied, and what is lacking? Can help to understand better the subject of knowledge sharing and collaboration as it takes place in the organization.
When building an internal community, it is also important to review the organization’s internal records such as existing documentation or resources, previous strategy work, or any related initiatives. This will put the community building in a wider context and will enable a stronger link between the community and the organization’s vision and mission as well as the business goals. Keep in mind that an internal community is primarily a mean to support the organization and its members. Moreover, reviewing supporting materials at an early stage of building the community is part of designing the community’s expected achievements and defining the community’s KPI’S.
To sum up, the first step in building a community is to obtain extensive insider information about the organization’s challenges and needs that the community may tackle. The rule of thumb is: be curious, ask open-ended questions, and don’t be afraid to go far down the rabbit hole.