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In the influential "Peopleware", DeMarco and Lister state that an organisation that builds a satisfying community will tend to keep it's people. We have about 40 programmers at work. How do we go about creating a "community" out of them?

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great question. –  Alb Feb 3 '11 at 22:05
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Could you elaborate on what you mean by community? Some people could argue that any set of people is a community in which case your question is more on how to ensure that it is a satisfying one and thus you may want to rephrase your query. –  JB King Feb 3 '11 at 22:10
    
Well, DeMarco and Lister say "satisfying community", which I take to mean a group of people who enjoy interacting with each other. –  Craig Schwarze Feb 3 '11 at 22:42
    
This was one of the things we wanted to do at my last company - we had two offices on opposite sides of the country, and we didn't know a thing about each other. But the higher ups didn't agree, so it never happened :( –  sevenseacat Feb 4 '11 at 0:45
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Create a common cause. Let people contribute to it. It will unite them.

As a very basic idea, create some sort of an online documentation system or a knowledge base (wiki, blogs) and encourage people to contribute there, collaborate and comment each other's contributions. It will spin up.

A while back ago I did my master thesis on creating communities and promoting socialization inside large international corporations. We had plenty of ideas. The core of it:

  • Identify intersection points of individuals and actively support them (even through software). Maybe they drive to work together, perhaps they do shopping together to discount prices, help each other with parenting etc.
  • Discover potential communities by interests and attempt to bring them to life
  • Make knowledge sharing and assisting each other the way of work
  • Let people introduce themselves to the society. Live presentation is embarassing, but a bunch of profile pages in the intranet will do. Make them searchable so that the people can find a partner by some criteria and approach him.
  • Some sort of reputation/recognition system inside a community. Either online (with rep points like here) or offline (employee of the month and so on).

Of course people need to like more or less their job in the first place (work, respect, salary, attitude). Without that nothing will work.

It's a challenging task to form communities in a working environment but a worthy one.

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Did your thesis get published? Would be interested in reading it –  Wil Mar 1 '12 at 13:41
    
If you go with a wiki you have to make sure people are actually reading it and paying attention. THere's nothing like the feeling of editing multiple pages only to have them ignored ;p –  omouse Jun 25 '13 at 19:56
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Find a group of people willing to work with you on the goal and start a grassroots movement. One thing I did was start up a twice weekly brown bag program. In order to kick start it, I made sure that we had enough brown bags scheduled for 6 weeks out. We got a lot of interest in the program and by the time I left, there were enough submitted topics to last 3 months out.

The internal brown bag became a great training ground to get members of the company involved in the greater local tech community. They started submitting talks to the local user groups based on the confidence they received from talking to a more private audience. In addition, the knowledge sharing turned into an internal training program. We also started recording the sessions and hosting them for our staff to view at any time.

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What's "brown bag program" in this context? I have the feeling you don't mean sharing grocery packs to your coworkers... –  Péter Török Feb 3 '11 at 22:37
    
Sorry...another term for it is Lunch and Learn. Instead of everyone going out for lunch, spend the hour learning something new. So bring your brown bag to lunch and learn. :) –  Mike Brown Feb 3 '11 at 22:45
    
He kinda does :) What it means this context is that you hold a lunchtime presentation/talk about a programming concept whilst people eat. Sometimes the company even supplies the lunch to encourage people to attend. –  ChrisAnnODell Feb 3 '11 at 22:46
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The IT department in our company is working on this task right now. We have about 40-50 developers scattered in about 10 different countries all over Europe. Until last Autumn we partically didn't know anything about each other, although often people in different countries were working on similar problems.

They started by pulling together as many people from as many different countries as possible, for a two-day workshop last autumn. The agenda was to introduce ourselves, tell about our current project(s) and get familiar with each other. This simple programme already provided us with lots of funny moments, e.g. when two teams from different countries realized they have been implementing almost exactly the same project twice without knowing about each other... and then a third team from a third country chipped in "no, that project was actually done three times, not twice" :-)

One of the action points was to create an internal forum and Wiki for developers to share questions, discuss ideas and solutions to common problems. This has been implemented by the end of last year, and it started to work quite well. People can create their own profile page including their skill set, so it is possible to look for experts on a specific language or topic now. In March we are looking forward to have our first Java developer workshop (there are two Java teams in the organization, most of the rest are on .NET).

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Don't forget about dating among employees. That will rock! –  user8685 Feb 3 '11 at 23:18
    
@Developer, oh sh*t, I have been married for too long :-) –  Péter Török Feb 3 '11 at 23:37
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Curiously, my answer to this question is relevant here, too!

In particular, I think you would benefit from a calendar of internal/external technical events, so that employees can attend together (and discover shared interests), and a central hosting solution for anything developers think is relevant.

+several to the preceding suggestion of starting a brown bag program.

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