Liveblogging TB Brighton #5: Practicalities of Building Communities at Scale by Lindsay Strydom and Gareth Waterhouse

Practicalities of Building Communities at Scale

By Lindsay Strydom @strydom_lindsay & Gareth Waterhouse @gwaterhouse85

Lindsay and Gareth don’t joke around: directly after lunch, they wake up the audience by playing their favourite 80s music (loud!).

Their topic today is building communities at scale. They explicitly state up front that they are not going to be talking about why communities of practice matter nor how to set them up. They reference Emily Webber’s talk she gave at TestBash Brighton last year and refer the audience to Emily’s book: Building Successful Communities of Practice.

Gareth and Lindsay provide a bit of context on their company ASOS. They are a large company with a large QA department. It all starts with being mindful of each other: Gareth shares a story how originally his team planned in a meeting session that was a 10pm for their Indian colleagues. Due to the dynamics of the team at the time, this meant that the Indian colleagues stayed at office till 10pm. It took them to realize it before they rescheduled the event.

When Lindsay joined the company she found it a bit of a culture shock. There were approx. 150 QA while she was used to smaller companies. Luckily, the QA community was thriving. There were quarterly meetups and frequent knowledge share sessions.

A number of things happened in 2017 that were exciting but were detrimental to their community. Renovations meant that they lost their meeting space. The company continued to grow which also meant there was a greater range of tech diversity. This meant that it became harder and harder to find topics to discuss that was relevant for the larger community. Attendance was declining and they lost the community feel.

Summary of the challenges they had:

  • Loss of their meeting space location
  • Inclusion: the meetings were at the same time on the same day all the time, which unintentionally meant that people who needed to leave work early for whichever reason, couldn’t attend
  • Single Purpose
  • Same format: they always had a single person sharing an experience report, and they wanted something different from the community at large.
  • One Person
  • Buy In: why is the community important?

In 2018, Lindsay attended TestBash Brighton and attended Emily’s talk and workshops on Communities of Practice.

Being out of the office for a few days gave Lindsay a time to reflect on what ASOS was missing on the community parts. She returned to office inspired. Lindsay and Gareth started setting up micro-communities. They organized an Unconference session where they defined what they did NOT want out of a community and what they did want to achieve. They formulated a purpose: Self-organizing a supportive, engaging environment where people feel excited to work with intelligent, likeminded people.

Due to the setup with micro communities, they did not need one large meeting space. They experimented with different times and different formats. It became much more community led. Everyone drives the community forward and has an equal say. They are continuously reflecting on what their purpose is. They encourage everyone to share, talk and publicize what you are doing. This helps with creating buy-in.

They are looking forward: what is next for them? They are planning an game night & socials. They are getting everyone together to host a massive QA Cascade & filming. They have pockets of communities. They have a mentoring scheme.

Lindsay states: so, how can you set up your communities for success?

It starts by hiring the right people. We are looking for enthusiasm. Not everyone wants to get involved, and a good community thrives on having people be there that want to be there. And not to focus your energies on those who are not interested.

Your purpose is essential. These can be multiple yet your focus is essential. If you want to network, the community will organize different events then if the focus is on knowledge sharing.

Build a brand and most of all: have a lot of FUN! It is essential to make people feel included.

So: go out! Have a blast!

1 Like