Every major company needs to reinvent itself from time to time. In good or bad times, while expanding and trying to reach new heights or fighting to survive, sooner or later every corporation needs to do it. It’s an axiomatic reality. It could be a restructuring, a rebranding, an expansion to new markets, development of new or totally different products, or any number of things– it all depends on the purpose.
Traditional linear organizational structures with clear hierarchies typically have a couple layers of management, with employees having a direct superior – a model that Cognizant Softvision adapted early on with success.
However, at Cognizant Softvision, we understand the importance of being able to scale and recognizing the need for evolution we switched course, understanding that the two most important things that define a digital transformation company are people and clients. As a result we put in place an established set of cross-functional, client-dedicated Agile teams that operate under a management system in which the two dimensions are communities and delivery.
While both of them work to achieve the same goals— to create impactful end-to-end digital products and solutions; to deliver sustainable innovation and business transformation for the world’s leading brands— the focus is different. Delivery is about our partners, projects and deliverables, while communities are all about people and talent development.
A sense of community
At first glance, “community” might seem to be a rather abstract concept. It could be described as a feeling, a perception, an experience, or even a culture. It is something that can be interpreted in many different ways. There are multiple sources out there that talk about a “sense of community,” some of them at a conceptual level, while others focus on a specific context.
The original label was “psychological sense of community” and that is because, at its core, it is a psychological concept.
By far, the most influential and widely-used theory comes from psychologists McMillan and Chavis. Their definition for a sense of community is “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”
The four elements
According to McMillan and Chavis’ theory, the sense of community is composed of four elements:
- Integration and fulfillment of needs
- Shared emotional connection
Membership is probably the easiest to understand and relate to when referring to groups and communities. It has several attributes, such as:
- Boundaries indicate who belongs and who does not. In the “real world,” these are marked by religion, language, sometimes by race, social status, etc. In Cognizant Softvision, it’s the area of expertise and the passion for a certain technology that defines boundaries. You have an eye for spotting mistakes, like to criticize others’ work, and are obsessed with quality assurance and control? Then the QA Community is probably your place to be. Are you a mobile app fanatic? We have a community for you, as well! Are you really talented, and like to focus on maximizing usability and the user experience? Welcome to the UI/UX community!
- Emotional safety is about security, willingness to reveal how one really feels, and it’s a tricky one. It takes time to develop a trusting relationship with a member of the community, and it’s a joined effort between managers, HR, leads, and influencers. For some people, it’s easy to talk with HR, while for others it can be the lead or the manager, but the important thing is to have a connection with someone. Regardless of the role, all the involved parties should try to consider basic things like honesty, help when possible, avoid hiding feelings, admit personal mistakes, keep true to one’s word, have patience, etc.
- A sense of belonging and identification. By nature, people have a natural desire to belong, to be a part of something. We nourish this emotion from day one. There is a buddy assigned to each new member, a colleague that helps with the social integration process, the HR rep that drives the company induction, the lead that presents the local community group, the manager that starts the project context discussions (it may be a project for one of our partners or one in the research and development area), all of these roles work together to make every new colleague become a part of the group, a part of the community.
Influence is and should always be bidirectional: members of the group must feel empowered to have influence over what the group does, and group cohesiveness depends upon the group having some influence over its members.
Every individual can give feedback regarding the community, have or state their interest for a certain workshop or presentation, propose a fun activity or a technical debate, share learning materials, drive learning groups and social activities, and the like. The manager’s role is to empower, enable and engage–he or she is not the one defining the roadmap. The entire group is!
How is the group influencing its members? Through its activities and presented opportunities. We have learned from experience that people who attend study groups tend to do better at technical certification exams than people who learn all on their own. They are more likely to learn a new skill or technology if the activity is group focused and not just individual. They are more open to adopting a new methodology if it’s something that the group recommended. These are just a couple of examples.
Integration and fulfillment of needs is the feeling that members’ needs will be met by the resources of the group. It also means that members are able and willing to help one another and receive help in return.
Stuck or overwhelmed by a technical issue? Want to learn a new programming language and need guidance? Maybe you want to develop your presentation skills. For all of these and for everything you need to pursue your career path the community will provide.
At the same time, every member can be a mentor to a colleague, a trainer in a workshop, can offer support in pre-employment and training-on-the-job programs, can write articles for others to benefit from, can be involved in technical interviews, all actions that help the group grow even more. There is no limit on how much you can give back to the community. If you have the skills and the will, you can do it!
Shared Emotional Connection is achieved through shared events and similar experiences (debates, contests, monthly challenges, team buildings, parties, etc.), gamification, brainstorming sessions, successful and failed group initiatives, releases, narrow deadlines, conflicts, and more. It’s not just about positive emotions, it is about being involved, having debates, being empathetic– all of these are normal, all of them shape each and every member and help strengthen the community.
I was one of the skeptics, or at least I didn’t fully understand it at the beginning. I admit I’m still learning and discovering the power of the community. The fact is that the communities work, they are the talent hubs that grow and connect the experts that work with our partners to achieve our common goals, the place where we research and learn new technologies and share knowledge and ideas.
You can force people to become a group, but you cannot force them to become a community. It takes time to achieve a sense of community. It has to be nourished from within and it’s a continuous growing process, but it’s absolutely worth it!