March Community Call Recap – Exploring new solutions to old problems, obliquely!

On this month’s call, we invited the Organizational Mycology team to facilitate an Oblique Thinking Hour activity for CSCCE community members. Beth Duckles and Dan Sholler led us through a series of prompts, culminating in breakout conversations where participants looked at community manager challenges from a range of surprising perspectives. 

Oblique Thinking Hours

So, you might be wondering: “What is an Oblique Thinking Hour?” These sessions are an experimental way of facilitating a group as they work through a problem or challenge. Instead of attacking the problem head on, they come at it “obliquely,” building an appreciation for what everyone brings to the table before trying to find a solution. 

In our case, Beth started the session by asking everyone to write down 1-3 skills in the shared notes doc that they felt comfortable talking about on the call. Importantly, these weren’t just work skills, but anything that a person considered themselves knowledgeable about. Some of the skills we listed included gardening, baking, advanced brunch studies, hormone-behavior interactions, book recommendations, cribbage, mindful doodling, neuroscience, group facilitation, and listening. 

The activity immediately kicked off some fun conversations in the chat – and at the end of the call one participant noted that this was a really fun icebreaker (bonus points that we used the list in the call activities, too)! 

Small green plants being watered from a watering can.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
A blonde woman wearing a light green top and blue pants rock climbing outside.
Photo by Yente Van Eynde on Unsplash
An asian woman wearing glasses reads a green book, surrounded by more books that are arranged in a circle to frame her face.
Photo by Ying Ge on Unsplash

The challenges

From here, we started brainstorming some of the challenges STEM community managers are facing today, and how they would like to see their communities grow or evolve. Beth and Dan skillfully guided us through a group discussion to align around common challenges or goals. Themes that emerged included a reticence of members to engage with community activities, an “under-understanding” of what community managers actually do by leaders and community members, and a shortage of time to “do all the things.”

The solutions

And so we put our wide-ranging skills to work! In breakout rooms of 4-5 participants, each group chose one challenge to consider. They then had to choose a skill and consider the challenge from that perspective. For example: How would a dog owner encourage their puppy to go for a walk if all they wanted to do was lay in front of the fire? They’d probably try to encourage the puppy with treats or toys, trying different ones until they found one that worked. 

Or consider a gardener. They know that every plant in their garden is different. Some require lots of sunlight and nutrient rich soil, whereas others need shade and plenty of water. They also know that even when you do everything right, the environment has an impact: If your area is in a drought, some of your plants might wilt or fail to bloom. 

A lightbulb on a white background. Three yellow clothes-pegs are arranged around the top to convey the idea that the lightbulb is "on," even though it isn't.
Photo by Karla Vidal on Unsplash

Analogies as a tool to unlock truths

The activity, and the discussions that happened inside and out of the breakout rooms, led to several core realizations: 

  1. As community managers, we often have to try out a bunch of different activities (or rewards) to see what motivates our members. This can be tiring, and not everything will work, but it is part of the process of getting to know the people in your community. Re-framing your activities and recognizing that the process is just as important as the outcome can help with potential burnout. 
  2. It can be exhausting to be the “center of the wheel” of your community, always connecting people and facilitating new connections instead of members talking to each other. We need ways to construct a web between the spokes of the wheel. 
  3. Decision making when there are strong opinions in a group is hard. But, much like in rock climbing, staying in one place is painful. You have to move forward and trust that there are multiple ways to traverse the wall.

Thank you!

A big thank you to Beth and Dan, and of course to everyone who came along and took part in something different. If you missed the call but would like to check out an Oblique Thinking Hour, there are some upcoming opportunities for you to do so. Check out the Organizational Mycology website for more information. You can also find Beth, Dan, and Jonah Duckles hosting a Biomimetic Problem Solving session at MozFest next week.

Next month

Our next community call will take place on Wednesday, 19 April at 11am EDT / 3pm UTC. We’re planning a conversation around the impact of a collapsing social media ecosystem on community building online. We hope you’ll join us to talk about what the future holds for virtual connection and collaboration!