When the term ‘company culture’ was invented in the late 20th century and later took hold of the corporate world, it provided a way for companies to implement their core values and ideals into their organization. However, other demands soon arose.
In the last few years especially, companies have seen an increased need for employee engagement, effective knowledge-sharing structures, tools for collaboration and more. Many companies who have succeeded in meeting these demands have inadvertently created smaller groups within their larger organizations, or as they are called, internal communities.
Internal communities allow an organization to retain their culture when employees come in and out, when even corporate officials make their exit.
These spaces provide a company a clear way to support their employees in both work-related and personal areas without affecting the efficiency of the organization.
They promote diversity, employee engagement, networking, and increase productivity. Internal communities can stretch across the globe and through different stages of a company; bound by neither time nor distance, they bring employees together in work and their personal lives.
What are internal communities?
Internal communities are communities intended and designed for employees to communicate and collaborate. Sometimes these communities are intended for practicality; to maximize efficiency and reduce mistakes. For instance, if a few different employees were spending time e-mailing each other back and forth, their effectiveness could increase with one communal resource. In other instances, the communities are meant to maximize the employees’ voices, especially when they would otherwise be unheard.
Because they can serve different purposes, there are different types of internal communities. An internal community can be for practice, as discussed above; in which employees are unified in their projects or work, or a community of purpose, where multiple people can gain skills and information from their colleagues, such as support communities for specific skill sets.
Other internal communities include communities of interest, in which employees share common hobbies or other areas of interest, and communities of circumstance, in which employees can bond over shared life experience, often as minorities. Whether the common ground is work-related or life-related, internal communities allow employees to learn from one another’s experience.
What are the benefits of internal communities?
First and foremost, they are comprised of the employees themselves. Although from the get-go they may be initiatives of the organization, a community is something the company builds together; each member and their personality adds to it.
In fact, the contribution of each employee is vital to the internal community’s success, both in knowledge-sharing communities of practice and even in communities of circumstance. The active participation of its members breathes life into the internal community structure.
In a company culture, an employee with seniority or at a higher level ultimately has a larger say what will make up the company culture. Within an internal community, given its nature, each member roughly has the same voice. Even in an internal community where colleagues are sharing their advice, such as in an IT support community, each employee has an opportunity to be a student and a teacher. Every employee of the greater company is equally important in the smaller internal community.
In the same vein, internal communities allow for all voices to be heard. An employee with lesser experience may feel less welcome to share their opinion on a matter, when oftentimes in reality their voice can contribute greatly. The CEO of Oak Engage, Will Murray, once said, “Encouraging an open, honest and transparent environment within your business is a prerequisite to creating a more positive and productive workplace. Champion your team and they will champion you.” For a company to experience ideal growth, they must have a system in which employees at every level feel their voices are welcomed and heard. Such a system is facilitated with the creation of internal communities.
In addition to facilitating transparency and open conversation, internal communities can become a space for minorities and increase the company’s diversity. Communities of circumstances create an opportunity for employees to connect to one another and to share their personal obstacles, journeys, and goals. For example, a community of Women in STEM, will give employees a smaller place to share their experiences and strengthen one another.
Diversity in a company is in of itself a worthwhile accomplishment, and also serves to strengthen the greater community. Individuals who feel represented in various fields are more likely to seek out careers in those fields and more likely to dedicate their time, efforts, and talents to pursue these positions. Communities of circumstance will also give way to overall employee satisfaction, thereby propelling company growth.
In terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity, the benefits of internal communities are tremendous. With internal communities of purpose or of practice, employees joint by a shared goal are collaborating directly and cutting down excess time spent finding the right person to help them with their project. This system also creates a standardization of processes.
No matter how many countries an organization is spread throughout, everyone can stay ‘up-to-date’ with processes, operations, and any updates. Amongst other benefits, the standardization throughout a company eliminates ambiguity and guarantees quality. Along with standardization, the effectiveness of internal communities is also apparent when considering onboarding time. If new employees can quickly catch themselves up to speed by accessing communal resources, they require less of other employees’ time, as well as increase their own efficiency.
Finally, arguably the biggest benefit is improved sense of teamwork. Although in actuality, employees are working towards the same goals even without the framework of internal communities, they are not always able to see and feel it. When employees feel they have a shared purpose and colleagues to encourage them, they will have greater motivation to succeed. This facilitates a morale boost across the board, which in turn further propels employees. This cycle of morale and motivation is an advantageous byproduct of internal communities. Whether it is asking colleagues for advice in a community of practice, or bonding over a shared life experience in a community of circumstance, employees can find encouragement and support in colleagues through internal communities. Additionally, this morale boost will translate into company pride, an invaluable tool in a company’s productivity and success.
Building an internal community is a process that requires several steps. To read about the first step click here.