The iconoclastic art critic Dave Hickey wrote one of the best treatises on the game of basketball, The Heresy of Zone Defense. In it, he explains the jazz-like quality of the game and how, when five players act in harmony with one another, some incredibly artistic and beautiful things can happen. If you ever had a chance to watch the Celtics or Lakers in the 80's, or the Bulls in the 90's, then you witnessed what he was talking about - players focused on doing those things that would lead to the optimal result. It meant that some players voluntarily took a backseat to others and sacrificed individual statistics for the sake of the team. But these players had a goal for their team and believed in a process. The result for those teams was a lot of success. A LOT.
(Photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times)
It would be easy to take this example, add some cliches ("There is no 'I' in team!"), and pawn it off as a simple unguent for all that ails groups. Certainly no one would argue that for any group to be successful, each member must showcase their strengths but also step back when it's time for others to shine. And of course, we've probably all seen this done at times, but more than likely we've also probably been a part of a group where people stepped on others' toes, egos were bruised, and the whole thing got repeatedly sidetracked. When you have a large project that requires the input of a lot of people, there are ample opportunities for this to happen - it's a challenge to keep everyone focused on the goal and refrain from acting solely out of self-interest.
As a member of the SAP Community Network team, and as one who was involved with working with our internal and external stakeholders on change and education, I had the opportunity to be part of something that was very close to what Hickey describes, albeit on a much larger scale. Our "team" is made up not just of SCN team members, but of 700+ SAP employees and community members who volunteer their time and domain expertise to ensure that SCN spaces are optimized for users and that we're delivering the right content to help our users become smarter about SAP products and solutions. Some of these people have this as part of their job description, while others just want to ensure an active and useful community. Without these stakeholders there just is no SCN.
Collaborating with a large and vocal group brings its logistical challenges. While SCN team members are communicating with stakeholders daily, for the purposes of our migration, we needed to have a forum for all stakeholders to hear news and get educated, and needed to be done in the same channel. To do that, we held 16 one-hour sessions, each with it's own topic about the new platform, and used the time to explain new features, functionality and our hopes for stakeholder involvement. As an open forum, we also solicited questions and feedback. Much of the feedback from stakeholders went in informing our decisions about how to improve the platform and make it more useful. From these meetings came hundreds of smaller group meetings; in some cases we wanted to go deeper on a topic, in others, we needed our stakeholder experts to help us make better decisions.
(Photo courtesy of Chip Rodgers)
Our migration meant disruption and additional work for stakeholders. In the course of managing already demanding jobs, they were also being asked to help us create a better platform. It would have been easy for many to put this in the bucket labeled, "too busy", or to devolve the discussion into criticism, but we were able to avoid getting sidetracked because our collaborative team (SCN + stakeholders) worked together professionally and respectfully. Out of these discussions came feedback and suggestions that resulted in better space layouts, metadata structure, navigation, and a host of other issues. While some issues emerged when we launched the new SCN in February, we're continuing to collaborate with our stakeholders to find solutions to problems and identify new and better features we can implement in the future.
Rational thought, albeit at times punctuated with passion, ruled the day, and it was incredible to see that in this large group, self-interest didn't distract us. Our stakeholders, who continue to be active as Space Editors and Moderators, focused on what was best for the community. And the result is much like what you get from a great assist and selfless teamwork in basketball - you may give up individual statistics, but you drastically increase your odds of success.