Organizations as communities

In a thought leadership presentation given at ASAE’s annual meeting and exposition, former Yahoo executive and author Tim Sanders talked about the importance of sustaining organizations with connections to the larger communities we serve.

Tim’s talk was full of helpful, hopeful views of both the present and the future. In an environment in which talented employees are at a premium, the ability to offer meaning is a competitive advantage. Along the way, Tim noted that “Doing the right thing is the new luxury,” and “the enemy of doing the right thing is short-term thinking.”

His presentation got me thinking again about Peter Senge’s work (okay, almost everything I hear gets me thinking about Peter Senge’s work) that led to his book, The Fifth Discipline (1990), and its companion fieldbook (1994). The follow-up book includes a section, “Creating and sustaining organizations as communities” that was contributed by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

Brown and Isaacs outline “6 Cs” that they feel are critical in creating and sustaining organizations as communities:

  • Capability (skills, knowledge and personal qualities required to form and reinvent the collective)
  • Commitment (actively participate in creating something together)
  • Contribution (meaningful links to goals and outcomes)
  • Continuity (institutional memory)
  • Collaboration (roles, purpose and a web of interpersonal relationships)
  • Conscience (guiding principles, ethics and values like service, trust and respect)

Two things struck me in re-reading Brown and Isaacs’ work: that in 1994, they had outlined the core reasons for the appeal and effectiveness of what we now call social media; and that there is still an important role for organizations (in this thread, associations) in contribution (goals and outcomes) and to some extent continuity.

Linking Sanders, Brown and Issacs: if “doing the right thing” is the coin of the realm in a web 2.0 era, then organizations, including associations, have an unprecedented opportunity to convene and foster a “many to many” conversation that ultimately leads to actions that create something of value. By ceding control, we open the door to wider participation, greater engagement and multiplier effect (Shirky’s social media math) that otherwise might have eluded us.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sanders’ work, consider his recent book, Saving The World At Work, which was the basis for his talk at the ASAE meeting.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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