Perhaps one of the most well-intentioned yet misunderstood categorizations I’ve seen made by a variety of sources has been a segmentation model which draws sharp distinctions between “teams”, “communities”, and “social networks” – essentially treating them as separate entities. Often, it’s influenced by the desire to associate each category with different tooling, or to make a point that social networking represents the missing strategic component within collaboration or knowledge management initiatives. At first glance, the concept makes sense – depicting a simple escalation from team to community to social networking shows a natural transition in the way people within an enterprise are organized and interact. However, it at the same time, it sends the wrong message. Teams and communities are social networks. In fact, you could basically say that all teams and communities are social networks but not all social networks are teams and communities. Treating social networks as something separate from teams and communities over-simplifies the discussion and can inadvertently mislead decision-makers and strategists.
Common Assumptions About Teams
We tend to think of teams as an activity-driven group structure that is relatively tightly coupled. Teams can be temporary (working together on project-related activities for as long as the project lasts), or teams can be persistent (working together on task-related activities in a business unit or as part of a process that crosses multiple functional units). Formal connections between team members are shaped by a variety of factors such as: reporting chains, roles, and deliverables.
Common Assumptions About Communities
We tend to think of communities as a group structure that is loosely coupled. In general, community membership is voluntary – people are typically not forced to join or contribute as they do in their normal routine. Management typically does not expect communities to produce a “work product” on a regular basis. People join communities for a variety of reasons. The term “community of interest” is often used to describe a group structure where people with diverse backgrounds come together around a common goal, topic or belief (e.g., improve customer service, “going green”). The term “community of practice” is often used to describe a group structure where people with very similar backgrounds come together to exchange information about their discipline (e.g., engineers, first responders). Connections between community members are minimally based on the shared interest or practice attributes identified by, and associated with, the community.
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