Community Alignment model
Last updated: May 2015
Organisational change is hard. It can be difficult enough dealing with technical processes and systems, but throw people into the mix - with their hopes, fears, and dreams - and you've got a recipe for complexity. Change, then, is hard because of people.
There are many ways to approach the technical side of projects and iniatives. Approaches such as the lean startup methodology are useful once a course of action has been decided. How, though, do you wrangle people to make that decision in the first place? That's where the Community Alignment model comes in. This model is an attempt to solve issues before they have a chance to derail an initiative.
- An organisation is also a community.
- Communities are groups of people who come together for a particular reason.
- Communities involve a diverse range of opinions and voices.
- All opinions and voices within a community are useful (although the ways in which they expressed may not be)
- Including as many opinions and voices within an initiative can lead to better alignment
- Alignment is achieved through effective facilitation and trust in the process
- Alignment within a community leads to better decision-making and cohesion
- Better decision-making and cohesion lead to better outcomes for clients/customers/consumers
Every community has a hierarchy. This based on the ability to make decisions and influence the community's future direction. This may be visible, or it may be hidden:
Some communities, particularly if they're also organisations, have both visible and and a hidden hierarchies. The visible hierarchy is based on seniority and (usually) responsibility. The invisible hierarchy is based on influence and who the real decision-makers are. The Community Alignment model uses the power of both kinds of hierarchy to enable change to happen in a sustainable way.
Step 1: Invite everyone
The first step towards alignment is to invite everyone to a kick-off meeting for the project or initiative. This may involve having to hold the first meeting in a physical or online space larger than that which you will be holding subsequent meetings. While the aim is information-giving about the initiative, you should provide a backchannel for organic conversations and questions.
See who turns up this first session. They may not attend future meetings, but these are the people to keep in the loop about progress. You should also ensure that those who can't make the kick-off meeting are catered for by recording the session and/or running it multiple times. Document everything to the best of your ability.
It's important at this step to show that although a rough direction of travel has been agreed, the specific outputs and 'shape' of the initiative haven't been determined. Spend a long time answering questions and use a backchannel.
Step 2: Keep everyone updated
The next step is to ensure there's a place for updates that can be accessed by anyone in the community. If appropriate, this can be made public through a blog but could equally be included as part of a printed newsletter. Updates keep the initiative front of mind for the whole community and, importantly, prevent the problems that come with (perceived) secrecy. You push the updates out.
Related, but separate: there also needs to be a space for the project work itself. A committed subset of the community will do the actual work, but this should be visible by everyone. Not everyone will be interested or involved in this so updates are pulled by interested parties. This could also be public, but may need to be behind a login depending on the sensitivity of the initiative.
Step 3: Make decisions
At some point in the initiative an important decision will need to be made about the future direction.
There's a temptation when the community is an organisation with a visible hierarchy to go with the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion). However, the aim with the Community Alignment model is that decisions are as democratic as possible. The aim for those facilitation conversations should be on what fits the original aim of the initiative. This may mean that the community becomes in alignment with an approach which isn't the most 'popular'.
There's a difference between alignment and compromise. A compromise can be the worst possible outcome for all involved as no-one gets their own way. With alignment, everyone involved supports a particular approach because they are convinced that the aims of the initiative can be met through the proposed approach. If alignment cannot be reached, then one of a number of ways forward can be suggested:
- Re-starting the initiative (or at least returning to the last decision milestone)
- Appointing someone as the 'benevolent dictator' to make the decision on everyone's behalf
- Giving people time to go away, reflect, and come back together
Step 4: Document everything
Documenting the project or initiative is everyone's responsibility. Effective documentation means that everyone can be involved at a level with which they feel comfortable, those new to the initiative can be onboarded quickly, and decisions can be easily audited. Instead of attaching documents and files to emails, give people access to documents and files that are stored in one place. This prevents unhelpful duplication.
Part of documenting is versioning. This means naming an iteration of a 'product' - e.g. prototype, a software version, or an approach. You'll notice that even this Community Alignment model is versioned! The advantages of versioning are many, and include:
- Showing progress
- Remaining product-focused
- Being able to roll back to a previous version in case of any problems
- Onboarding people quickly
- Auditing decisions
Step 5: Celebrate success
Those community members involved with the initiative are more likely to want to be in alignment with others if they feel like they are part of something successful. Celebrating milestones is a good way to celebrate success and is easier to achieve through versioning. If the initiative has a budget, this should be factored in.
Milestones and version numbers provide occasions to clearly and concisely inform the whole community of progress.
The Community Alignment model is an approach to help you remove issues that may derail a project. The focus is upon alignment rather than consensus. This means that the aims and objectives of the initiative are seen as more important than the opinions of any individual - no matter how senior they may be in the hierarchy.
By inviting everyone, obtaining buy-in, documenting the process, versioning, and celebrating success, the chances of your initiative being successful are greatly increased!
Finally, the Community Alignment model may take some time to influence, but...
(more coming soon!)