How community design can help companies rethink their organisations

The internal organisational problems of companies are well known by now, but their solution is less so. Employees can no longer be treated as such. Not only because Covid has undermined a corporate organisation based on locations and hierarchies, but above all because it has accelerated a change that is first and foremost cultural. The digital transformation has given us the tools to be our own designers, but at the same time it has also accustomed us to relate to others from a horizontal rather than vertical perspective, thus eliminating the value of hierarchy and freeing up capacity and creativity. Thus, the Taylorist work organisation no longer fits today’s conditions and what we have become.

Last century’s theories that work should be reduced as much as possible to mechanical processes can no longer support either the demands of a market that is now much more complex and constantly evolving, nor the desires of people who demand that their productive activity no longer just provide them with a living wage, but above all with meaning and value for the soul. It is therefore no coincidence that a 2017 Gallup analysis claims that organisations with highly engaged employees achieve very high results in terms of profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction.

How then? How to turn employees into engaged and satisfied employees?

Community design approach can help. Communities grow and organise themselves by putting at the centre of their strategy not only the people themselves, but also their relationship with others and with the organisation that promotes them. Some of the ways in which communities are shaped and grow can thus be adapted to all those contexts that want to enhance a system based on motivations and relationships.

From mission to purpose.
All communities are born around a core value that brings people together, which might bea passion, a condition, a purpose or a practice, and represents the identity and the sense of belonging. In order to advance this shared core value, people take action. In an organisation this means translating the once distant and elusive mission into a concrete purpose for employees, something very realistic and attractive that stimulates them and makes them feel part of a change. The value of Spotify is to unlock creativity by giving everyone the opportunity to live from their art. Those who work there believe in the democratic nature of art and the importance of having the opportunity to express it.
The value, however, must not be just an exercise in style – nice hung words at the entrance of the offices, if there ever will be any again, but must be declined in the behaviour, in the choices, in the decisions of the company towards employees, suppliers, products and even civil society.

From hierarchical to horizontal organisation
Everyone has to feel part of a change, but needs to be empowered to contribute. To do so, organisations must distribute autonomy and trust, breaking down hierarchies and enabling people to unleash their creativity and skills. This is what communities do. Communities have a very low degree of hierarchy; the most important division is between those who govern and those who are active. Within this boundary there are few roles, and leaders emerge spontaneously. Legitimacy is given above all by competence and by how involved one is in the community. The leader has the task of observing, nurturing participation, supporting and rewarding, but also of establishing the main rules and activities within which to move. Within this scheme members move autonomously not only by doing what needs to be done but also by proposing, advising, helping, and co-designing.

From communication to co-design
Co-design is an important part of a community member involvement system. It means that members can express themselves, suggest, propose ideas, on products, services, organisational methods. In order to achieve this, communities create channels not only for communication but also for conversation and support. Organisations that want to innovate must provide these same channels so that communication is no longer top-down, but two-way, and value is not just the expression of management but is co-produced by the members themselves. Of course, this can happen if, alongside these channels, a listening system is established that monitors and collects what is said and proposed, and if people are encouraged to express themselves transparently and calmly. In this way, members feel motivated to open up and contribute.

From an extrinsic to an intrinsic rewarding system
If the community produces value, the members must be rewarded. Not only because it is fair but also because it encourages them to keep going. In a community the reward is not only economic (in some cases it never is), because the motivation that drives the members is mostly intrinsic. what drives the participation of the most active members of a community is the desire to do good, to be part of a group, to advance a cause, to be recognised. Motivations to do well are the same that, according to many studies, make employees happier and increase the productivity of companies. To innovate an organisation, the first aspect to think about is increasing intrinsic motivation, and then flank the financial reward with systems that recognise it, such as transparent acknowledgements, training and experience.

 

These are some of the principles of community design that can also be applied within organisations that want to turn their employees into collaborators. In the end, this is what it is all about: stopping treating staff as subordinates, mere executors of commands from above, and starting to think of them as people who can move independently and with whom they can co-produce value for the company and for the entire system.

Marta Mainieri