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May 19, 2008

All associations are "self-forming groups"

I'm increasingly puzzled by the term "self-forming groups". And even more puzzled by the threats that many association executives seem to see in them. You know what I'm talking about: The groups that seem to arise out of nothing from listservs, bulletin boards, and -- increasingly -- social networking sites.

Truth be told, all associations are self-forming groups. It's not as if God himself spoke them into being. They organized by themselves.

I say, "Bring on the self-forming groups!" They might need an executive director one day!

Tagged: ; ; ;


Dennis D. McDonald said...


One significant difference from self forming groups that many professional associations have is a strong connection with a profession and all the profession's associated educational, regulatory, historical, and certification-related history, standards, and practices. All these can weigh heavily on an association's agility and freedom to innovate. That's why self forming groups might be seen as threats; they aren't hampered by all the "overhead," they can be formed at the drop of a hat, and they can just focus on getting people together to collaborate or share wihout worrying abot commitments or history

The challenge is for the professional association to figure out how to balance its complex history and commitments with the agility available to self forming groups. Some associations are able to do that, others are still trying to figure it out.


Dennis McDonald
Alexandria, Virginia USA

Matt Baehr said...

I am somewhat with Dennis on this one. The threat is that a group of members forms a group to do one thing that doesn't compete with the professional association. Then, as they get bigger and better, they start competing directly with the professional association. But it is your members, so what do you do? That is the threat I think people are referring to.

Instead of a threat, we should see it as a help. It means professional associations need to be on the cutting edge and constantly talking to members to see what their needs are. You can't rest on your laurels.

Dennis D. McDonald said...

I agree with Matt!

Lindy Dreyer said...

I see the corporate equivalent being the agile startup versus the billion-dollar corporation. Yes...the agile startup will likely need a seasoned CEO one day, but the billion-dollar corporations are most definitely feeling threatened.

But, I like the mind shift. Feeling threatened by a self-forming group puts you in a defensive posture from the start. If your organization can put aside the fear and welcome these groups, you might benefit from them just as much as the people who formed them in the first place.