Circles for growth - doing community my way

How feeling lost in slack communities helped me figure out what works for me

In April/May 2020, I was doing a bit of an experiment to find out which slack community for product management was the best fit for me at this stage in my career. I tried to stay engaged for 1 week at a time on each one and made some notes for myself. 

At the end of my experiment, I was able to reduce the number of slack channels I was a part of from 7 to 3 that I felt was most valuable to me. However, I still found them overwhelming or lacking any real engagement. I still had the same feeling I started with which is that I struggle to be part of product management communities outside work. 

I woke up one morning at the end of May and decided to determine what my needs are and what an ideal community for me will look like. What if it was not a community at all? What if it was something else? 

My key needs are to discuss best practices, challenges and how to improve as well as connect with others in the industry. As an introvert, I figured I’ll like to do this on a much smaller, intimate scale because that might be why I’ve not really connected in these large communities.

I decided to find a small group of Product Managers who share the same or similar professional goals/challenges with me but who I can also connect with, in a more personal way. Product managers who are somewhat different from me, for example, working on different types of products or different companies. 

I figured that Ideally, this group will be mid-level or senior product managers, women, introverts/ambiverts, have a previous connection with at least one person in the group. To keep it small, I thought it should be a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 7 people. 

I contacted someone I knew from university and someone I used to work with. I pitched the idea by explaining the problem, my current (career) goals and my values. I proposed an aim for the group which was to share our journeys, resources we find useful, people we think are great, be accountable to and challenge each other where needed, share personal challenges etc. 

Interestingly, they both had a similar need and that was the beginning of what we called “Our PM circle”. We meet every 2 weeks to talk about our work, challenges, our professional goals and life in general. I find those sessions quite refreshing and encouraging. I always learn something new each time. We also keep in touch during the week and have shared resources. We’ve since decided that 3 is our magic number and don’t currently plan to expand the group.  

Why does this approach matter?

A regular opportunity for peer coaching

Peer coaching is when 2 or more people come together and form a trusting environment to help one another in supporting and facilitating self-directed learning. 

Our catch-ups are like informal peer coaching sessions -  we actively listen to each other, reflect together, share ideas or alternative perspectives, think through challenges together and talk about our ways of working and what has worked well

Accountability partners 

Accountability is the expectation of account giving and serves as motivation to keep moving towards your goals. 

We are accountable to each other in a low-pressure way. Having a small group of people who know about your goals and the steps you want to take to get there helps motivate you to keep going. We’ve all made significant progress towards our goals in the time we’ve spent together

Opportunity to leverage the collective network, resources and strengths

Networking is considered essential for one’s career but it can be hard if you are going for quality instead of quantity. 

We are all product managers but we have different backgrounds, experiences, strengths, access to different resources. This group helps us pull that together and share when needed. 

Shared perspective and language builds trust

Finding people that have shared perspectives with you to a certain level, in this case, women, introverts, product managers means you are beginning from a place of shared understanding that makes it easy to build trust and bond. 

We speak the same language and have shared challenges, sometimes, what we need is to rant to someone who understands your challenge deeply. 

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This is not an exhaustive list, of course, we’ve all found that being part of such a small group also encourages us to show up and be present while it can be okay to lurk in the background in bigger groups. 

It’s also very personal, we don’t talk about product management all the time, we talk about everything related to our careers and personal life. It’s like a group of friends.

How to get started

  1. Identify the right people: based on your career stage and goals, identify people who are on a similar path

  2. Reach out to them explaining why you’ll like to form a small group

  3. Arrange first catch up to connect and talk about how to run the group

After 6 months of success with this model, I’m going to be sharing how we do it and resources/templates we use, what we learn through ‘Circles for growth’. some of what I’ll share may be more useful for product managers but transferable to any group. (Link to a coming soon page?). 

I’ll be writing more about this so If a circle for growth is something you’ll be interested in starting, please subscribe to this substack. If you are just interested in our journey and what we learn in this process, also subscribe. If you prefer, you can reach out to me on Linkedin or Twitter.

What are the challenges you’ve faced in finding a community that works for you? Please share in the comments.