Your own colleagues are your most important community. That’s how I see the role of the Community Manager in a technological company. Of course, you need to make sure that the developers talk at conferences, meetups and that they write blog posts. Simply sharing their knowledge and experience. However, even this needs to be done in a way that supports their growth and development. Meaning, that by preparing for talks and by researching for their blog posts, they become better developers and ultimately better people. That’s one part of how to look at your “internal community”.
The other part, and it’s the content of this article, is making sure that the developers interact with the rest of the company. It’s maybe something that not everyone talks about. And maybe it’s not the case of all the companies (good for them!) but developers tend to live in their own bubble focusing on the job to be delivered and they don’t care much about the rest of the company. And conversely, sales people or customer care often look at developers with concerns or sometimes even fear.
Cross exposures FTW
Well that’s something I don’t want to see and something I subconsciously worked against since I started in Mews as the first official support person in July 2015. Of course, it was easier to be around developers all the time because we were 9 and we sat in a two room apartment. As the team grew, I was looking for ways how to open the devs up and connect people across departments.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that developers are very comfortable when they talk about their domain. You can see that rigid introverts turn into confident beasts on stage of a meetup when the topic is their own and they know they are invincible. Along with the successful history of cross exposures (spending a day at a hotel reception or spending a day or a week in another team) in Mews it hit me.
So the idea was that anyone in the company would have a possibility to book one hour of developer’s time who will then do live coding and will talk a bit about basic concepts of programming as well as explaining what is behind our platform. I was a little worried how it would be accepted both by the company and the developers but it was really successful. It was great to see how people across the company wanted to learn more about the technology and maybe to meet the unknown developers as well. The home office setup of the last year was in fact beneficial as everyone from the company could participate no matter the location.
Anything & tell
And similarly to what I mentioned in the beginning. It’s not only about developers “teaching” someone else about programming. The fact that they have to think and talk differently in these sessions (because the dev language is really difficult to grasp even after 5 years of working with them) helps them to better understand the work they do. And developers learn a lot about day to day struggles of other teams and even learn the true value of the work they are doing.
Ten months after we launched this initiative, we still have a lot of sessions happening and what is great is to see a lot of returning attendees and many developers come forward actively putting their names on the list.
Important thing to say is that this is not just about the developers. Cross-departmental knowledge is key for the success of smooth communication and cooperation. Even though we each have different OKRs, priorities and we sit elsewhere, we all work to make our company be the best it can be. That’s why there can be Sell&Tell, Care&Tell or Pay&Tell and it’s great to see that these initiatives are already taking place here in Mews and they can too in your company.
Note: This article is based on my talk at an online event “Community Chatter: Employee Engagement”.