How to Be an Effective Manager of a Community Builders Team

(This post was originally published on CMX Hub blog, I’m adding it to my blog to keep everything in order)

A lot of community builders are working as a one (wo)man band, doing everything on their own to support their beloved communities. Far less common is the situation where you have a team of community builders working together on the same community program. As a manager of a team like this, how does one build, sustain, and grow it?

Luckily, a lot of the existing culture surrounding team management can be applied with success. I like to think about Tuckman’s stages of group development as a good starting point. It describes the inevitable phases in order for a team to grow, face up to their challenges, find solutions, and deliver results. What are specific elements and suggestions to consider, within the frame of a community builder’s team?

Phase 1: Form

In this phase, a new team is created. Its members join for the first time, start to think about the common project, and the reasons to work together. They also begin to get to know each other, both professionally and personally. There are three essential key responsibilities for the team manager: establish the vision, hire team members, and connect them.

No one more than the team manager should know the reason for such team to exist, why the company needs the community. And this reason should drive the hiring process too: there are plenty of resources on how to hire good community managers and builders, but just the right skills are not enough. It’s important to identify someone who shares the same vision and is motivated by the same whys. Initially, that vision will be a strong first element of commonality among team members. Subsequently, it will help everyone to have a clear understanding of their part in the journey. Over the long period, this alignment will provide a major boost to members’ spirit, productivity, and happiness.

Once there is a common goal among team members, another manager’s core responsibilities during the Form phase is to shift the newly formed group mindset from “me” to “us,” increasing as much as possible the many:many relationships inside the team. Think, for example, about engaging members in some type of collaborative effort, so they can motivate one another and hold one another accountable. When the shift happens, the team unleashes its real potential, obtaining results that are more than the mere sum of people’s individual contributions.

Phase 2: Storm

Once team members start to collaborate with each other, sooner or later, the vast majority of teams will go through a phase of conflicts, where the focus is on the differences among members, more than on what unites them. On failures, more than on successes. On conflicts, more than on collaborations.

To successfully deal with this stage, the manager should address areas of uncertainty and foster collaborative discussions with positive outcomes among team members, to contrast that “conflict element.”

Among those areas, two of the most important are the definition of success and the community strategy. Connected with the aforementioned team vision, identifying what success for the community looks like, and the tangible returns the community should provide, helps the group to understand how the community can serve the company, and concentrates energy and resources in one common direction

Once the definition of success is known, the manager should ensure the team creates a proper strategy to pursue it. Tools like the community strategy canvas can help to lay down a clear path to follow while leaving space, at the same time, for diverse set of contributions, added values, and creativity every team member can bring into play. The canvas should be reviewed time to time by the team, to adapt to changing factors and to tackle new challenges in pursuing success.

Another common source of conflicts in a team of community builders, is when there are divergences on the appropriate behaviors community members should have. To avoid countless discussions, the manager can help the team to find and articulate a community tone. Once decided upon, these guidelines can both reduce conflicts inside the community and, for the ones that still happen, team members can find an easier way to solve them by following the tone.

Phase 3: Norm

This phase is where team members really cooperate together, all working toward the common goal, knowing and accepting each other. Despite lot of positive elements, a good manager knows the major risk of this phase lies in the inability of the team to challenge the status quo. The community is a living organism, always changing; a team that blindly sticks to outdated models to support itself could potentially represent a problem.

Investing in member training can prevent that. Participate in conferences on community management, organize recurring lectures or brown bag sessions about books or the latest articles on the matter, encourage folks to actively participate in a community of community builders, and much more. Whatever is useful to broaden views and expertise of the team and to bring fresh new ideas, you should be doing it.

Once these new ideas are found, it’s important to provide team members a protected space to test them. Especially for mature and big communities, the fear of a small spark, generated by an error of a community builder, becoming a wildfire damaging the community with a negative impact for the company, can prevent the team from introducing changes. So, the team manager should first set a culture where small and controlled failures are not only tolerated, but there is acknowledgement they are needed to improve, and then allocate resources to perform tests in a protected environment. For example running focus groups, or creating a special group of early adopters inside the community, etc.

Bringing an external point of view can also help: someone outside of the team could easily identify areas of improvements for the community, without being “emotionally connect and involved” with the rest of the team members, and the community itself. Once spotted, the manager should work to create a plan to solve these issues, and follow up on its execution.

Phase 4: Perform

In this phase, the team performs at its peak. Autonomously, well connected with company’s goals, and with very little guidance needed. Thanks to that, the manager can collect the most substantial fruits of their labor and has more time availability. How can one reuse both of them wisely?

For example, one way would be trying to grow visibility internally into the company and to obtain more resources, in the form of a budget increase, more team members, and so on. Even if reports that show connections between the community outcomes and the company needs have to be available since the first day of the community, in this phase there is more time to increase their accuracy, deepen the analysis, extend the long-term contribution measurement. All of this should be done with one main goal: show how indispensable the community is for the company. And the team manager has to be the spokesperson of this bond, more in this phase than ever, to guarantee a bright and long-term future for their team.

Alternatively, the manager can start looking for new company challenges to address, connected either with the community-related skills team members possess, or with new needs the community can solve for the company. Has the community, initially born to provide scalable support, proven to be a good source of ideas and product feedback? What about integrating it in the creation process for new products, or new versions of them? Has the community, born to mobilize a group of people toward a cause, proven to be a source of inspiring stories and loyal customers? What about morphing it in a place for brand ambassador? Creativity is the limit.

Just a final thought to recap: every team is like a small community, and it changes over time. While the main manager’s duty always remains to connect it with the rest of the company one side, and to serve it and allow team members to thrive on the other side, knowing the most typical phases of a team can allow the manager to be more prepared, and more effective, in fulfilling their duty.

(This post was originally published on CMX Hub blog, I’m adding it to my blog to keep everything in order)

Road to European GDG Leads Summit – Setting the purpose

GDG Summit Purposes

If you know me, you know I love to start with why. In addition, as Priya Parker wrote in her book “The art of Gathering“, “by having a clearly identified purpose for the event, participants will have more chances to actually connect, and not be disappointed”. So, once our European DevRel team decided this year to shift from several regional GDG Leads summit, to a European-wide summit for 500+ attendees, we set down together, to define the main purpose of the summit, the North Start that would have influenced all the other event-related decisions. How we made it is the topic of this post.

(This post is part of a series about the European GDG Leads Summit organization. Partially to give to GDG leads some behind-the-scenes of the event, partially to share with other community managers lessons learned, partially for personal fun)

Get inspiration from the past

To warm-up our brains and create a common ground for follow-up discussion among the 12+ people in the team, we started with a retrospective exercise. We looked at the regional summits we run in the last two years, wearing two hats: one that considered attendees feelings and emotions (community is all about emotions), their comments and their feedback; another that considered our goals and impressions as organizers. We used the Start / Stop / Continue model, adding a fourth “Best” element to it. And this was the result.

Start / Stop / Keep doing / Best of past regional GDG Leads Summits

An incredibly dense wall of insights! We briefly discussed the points and, unsurprisingly, the ones that emerged more often were about knowledge and experience sharing, the sense of community, networking activities, training on community-related topics, feedback and discussions, intimate conversations, fun together. We also smiled a lot at your past, because was full of great and heartwarming memories.

We added into the mix the results of the interviews we did during Google I/O to several community leads there, asking them the most valuable activity they wanted to have during a GDG Leads Summit.

Identify the core summit purpose

With all these information in mind, we started to think, individually, about a desired purpose for the summit. With these key characteristics:

• Represents the sweet spot between what attendees want and enjoy, and the event organizers goals, with a slight preference for the attendees side.
Tangible and inspirational at the same time. Able to leave a feeling in between “we made it” and “there is still road ahead”. The “we made it” to positively justify the time spent, the “there is still road ahead” so attendees feel it’s already time for another summit, to continue the journey together.
• Offers a high level narrative that could be addressed during different events, using different angles and themes, but still part of the same, consistent, story.

And we put ideas together, obtaining another “surface” full of great insights:

GDG Summit Purposes

That flip chart fed an intense follow-up discussion that, after setting priorities, voting the different proposals and adding other elements into play, left us in agreement about the following GDG Summit purpose:

Empower GDG Leads connecting them and with them at a personal level, fostering a European identity and celebrating their successes, while providing tools to growth in their community manager role.

Skills and tooling, identity, connections, appreciation. Four areas we’ll work on to draft the agenda!

Stay tuned for the next post on the European GDG Leads Summit!

Job opportunities for community managers and builders

** UPDATE ** All the positions are now closed, thanks for the massive interest!

You know what does it mean to be part of Developer Relations, and you I’ve felt in love with communities long time ago. In special, with in-person communities with a focus on technologies. Google technologies. And you’re thrilled by the opportunity to make them even more successful thanks to your help.

Well, have you ever considered working with my team? We have some free seats now!

The positions

Community builder for Central Eastern Europe area (external collaboration): based in Warsaw or Prague Google office, you’ll be responsible for supporting and empowering the developer community ecosystem in Central Eastern Europe using the active programs we have.

Developer Students Club program manager (external collaboration): we’re planning to bring Developer Students Clubs in Europe, and we need a hand to make it possible. Any European capital with a major Google office could be a good location, and you’ll support in execution another team member responsible for this project.

Senior European Community Builder (job posting): how can our community programs be even more successful across Europe? What are possible next steps? Help us executing them with direct ownership of some European ares, while also crafting their future. Location preferably in Milan, but we’re also open to few other European capitals with major Google offices (Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin, Prague, etc)

What does external collaboration mean? While for the last position you’ll be hired as a Google FTE (Full Time Employee), the others are temporary collaboration (24 months max, depending on the hiring country), because we need support to manage a special and unusual workload. To be totally clear, these positions don’t have the same characteristic of an FTE role and don’t grant any future FTE conversion.

Common background for all the positions

Even if all the positions have their own peculiarities, there are some common ground for all of them. In particular:

  • Love to connect with people and empower their passions toward a common goal
  • Know, by heart, the art of community management
  • Be able to manage relationships with, and foster creation of, local developer communities, both formal and informal. Meet with local developers and businesses, promoting Google technologies to them
  • Identify community needs, key trends, insights and proactively develop strategies to best satisfy them
  • Be able to analyze, measure and report what’s going on in the community ecosystem and the personal contribution on that
  • Know how to plan in-person community meetups, from 20 to 500 people
  • Advocate for developers internally, and influence Google developer product strategy by working with Product Management, Engineering, PR, Marketing, Business Development and other cross-functional teams
  • Be knowledgeable about Google technologies
  • Be able to speak and write in English fluently and idiomatically
  • Have good project management skills

In all the cases, you won’t be alone, as we work as a team. Distributed, but as a team. So help and mentorship will be at your fingertips.

Interested in applying?

Reach me. My Twitter DMs are open and there are plenty of other ways to get in contact with me. But please, before trying, put aside imposter syndrome and check if you really are the right person: we need proven expertise in community management, and be a social media manager of an admin of a Facebook group is not enough.

Bonus position

Dev conference partner manager (external collaboration): I’m also scouting for a person able to manage Google DevRel participation to the most important developer conferences in Europe (Codemotion, Devoxx, Droidcon, WeAreDevelopers, etc), from identifying these conferences to understand where Google DevRel can have the higher added value, from curating relationships with conference organizers to organize a booth at the event, involving speakers, communities, etc.

Less community manager, stronger project management skills, but still in love to work with the tech ecosystem. Reach me, as usual.

Conferences for Community Managers in 2019

Chairs in a conference room

As per every job, it’s important to be part of a network of like minded and professionals with similar skills. What are the conferences for community managers, leaders and builders worthwhile attending in 2019?

** Note: this is a work-in-progress post, with new events added over time. Last update June 3rd **

Confirmed events

FOSDEM Community DevRoomFebruary 3, Brussels, Belgium: Every year, thousands of developers of free and open source software from all over the world gather at the event in Brussels. This year I was part of the Program Committee ;)

DevRelCon Tokyo, March 9, Tokyo, Japan: a conference about developer relations, developer experience, developer community, APIs and developer marketing. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

DevRelCon San Francisco, June 6 and 7, San Francisco, California: This is THE annual San Francisco Bay area conference for Developer Relations and Developer Experience practioners! This is the conference where you can meet and learn from your community of dev advocates, community managers, team managers, dev marketers, and people in many roles that share DevRel and DX responsibilities in support, docs, engineering, product, partner engineering, BD, marketing, customer success, and more. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

Swarm Conference, August 20-21, Sydney, Australia: Founded in 2011, Australia’s flagship community management conference connects local builders, thinkers, managers and makers with top international talent for two days of learning, collaboration, inspiration and outcomes.

CMX Summit, September 5-6, Redwood City, California: Over 2 days, CMX Summit seeks to expand discussions, techniques, and tactics applied to community building for businesses and support communities and their CEOs, CMOs, and builders at scale. (That’s you!) You’ll gain insights from the best in the industry and make lifelong friends

TheCR Connect, September 23-25, Boston, MA: TheCR Connect is exclusively for community practitioners – those engaged in the development, implementation, management, and measurement of community initiatives. You might be a community manager for a 5,000 person internal community, the community specialist at a start-up, or the director of community for a Fortune 500 brand. TheCR Connect is a vendor-free event to ensure that open conversations can happen between community practitioners.

DevRelCon London, December 10-11, London, United Kingdom: The fifth edition of DevRelCon London focuses on how developer relations, developer marketing, community management, and developer experience can learn from each other and from other disciplines. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

Are you Italian?

If you’re a community manager, living in Italy, join the Italian Community Managers group, as we organize several event across the year, included 1 main conferences in Milan on November 15th, to discuss about these topics.

Other resources

There is also a list of upcoming DevRel-related events maintained by Mary, with big conferences and smaller meetups. And DevRel often crosses with community management, you know ;)

Any other important occasion missing in this list?

The Community Canvas for GDG

GDG Community Canvas

When a community movement is worldwide spread, like Google Developers Group is, maintain a good balance between a common identity and local differences is essential keep the “sense of belonging” among the chapter leads, while leaving them the freedom to be successful interpreting the local context. But what defines that common identity? I created a GDG Community Canvas to explore and understand that.

The Community Canvas by Fabian Pfortmüller is, for a community, what the Business Model Canvas is for a company. While the latter is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances (Wikipedia), the former is a framework to describe the underlying structure of a community, focussed on 3 main section: Identity, Experience and Structure. More info in the Community Canvas site, alongside with very useful guidebooks to understand each section and questions to drive its creation.

The process

Similar to the Community Commitment Curve exercise, I’ve asked to 70+ GDG leads to create their own Community Canvas, to check if a common picture about what a GDG is would have emerged and, if yes, what it would have been. In short: yes, there is one, and it’s very well defined!

We did the exercise during the annual community summits and, because defining the whole canvas could be overwhelming, we used a short version of it, called the Community Canvas MVC (Minimum Viable Community), still by Fabian, and working only on the “Identity” part, the most useful to provide an answer to my assumption.

The benefits of running such exercise in person with the community leads were multiple: first, it was an introspective journey they took, together, to better understand the reasons they do what they do. Gather around the same table younger and more experienced leads, to share and reflect about one passion that connected them all (they were there because they all run a GDG), fostered a stronger Sense of Community. Finally, it wasn’t Google telling them what a GDGs should be, they told each other, and based on their experiences.

We used simple design thinking techniques to co-create the GDG Community Canvas: first, we invited the leads to reflect about one of the element of the identity section, individually. Then, in group of four, they shared their learnings and discussed. Finally, they wrote down the main points on a template I provided them, to group all the thoughts emerged. We iterated for each of the identity section element: purpose, audience, values, goals. Finally, I went thru the findings, doing a little bit of summarizing. The whole exercise, in total, took a couple of hours.

The result

The follow maps describe what a Google Developer Group should be, and I pretty much agree with it.

Purpose: GDGs exist because they are local platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and learning of tech knowledge, expertise and ideas, for everyone and without discrimination. They create a space to socialise and get together with likeminded people interested in tech, enabling personal and career growth. They also aim to increase diversity in tech, creating a welcoming and safe environment. All with fun.

Audience: GDGs are for tech professionals with different level of expertise, interested in learning and sharing about Google technologies, and in giving back to the community. They’re also open to students, tech entrepreneurs and, in general, to all the people working with developers and / or with a technical background or passion about technologies. They host audiences of different ages and people close in terms of geographic location. They also welcome people interested in diversity and inclusion topics in the tech ecosystem.

Values: the most recurring values of GDG communities are about a social, technological and cultural inclusiveness, a continuous learning attitude of the members paired with a love for new technologies and a culture of sharing, a desire for personal growth, all enclosed in mutual respect and support. Diversity is present in many dimensions, from members background to knowledge level, including reasons to be part of the community to technologies, all to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone.
I particularly liked one of the point made: “learn, earn, serve”.

Goals: most common success factors for GDGs are the positive feedback from satisfied community members about the activity organized, the ability to share in an efficient and effective way knowledge and positive values of the community, being recognized as a valuable community and the reference point for Google technologies in the local ecosystem. Also the “creation factor” was mentioned: in term of new projects and ideas, community contribution to technologies: bugs, pull requests, feedback, etc. Success is also defined by more diversity in the event attendees, in term of gender and cultural background.
One group mentioned the increase of Community ROI, seen as Return of Interest, in term of more attendees to the events, more retention among attendees and more bonding capital among members.

Here the detailed results.

Next steps

It would be great to run the GDG Community Canvas exercise across different cultures, as my cohort was mostly from Europe. I suspect main points will be the same, with some interesting secondary differences. In addition, I left to the leads the pleasure of filling the other two sections (Experience and Structure) once home, with the rest of their community core groups, but it would have been interesting to go thru the whole canvas together. Nevertheless, several told me they’ve done, and it was very useful to better shape and share their idea of community and align their minds.

And you, GDG member or lead reading this article, do you find yourself and your community in this canvas? Please let me know, as I’m interested in every single feedback!

Strategies to increase community members involvement, ICM Summit

A recurring problem of every community manager is to keep community members involved with the community. During this talk I spoke about the Community Commitment Curve, a tool to identify a path of optimal engagement, composed by small progressive requests, helping members to be more and more active within the community. They were also concrete examples of the Curve, for online and offline communities.

(Talk in Italian)

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(Italian Community Managers Summit Rome, 10 November 2018)