Building a Global Community: Insights from Margaux Miller

In this episode of Elements of Community, join Lucas Root as he discusses with Margaux Miller on fostering women in tech and building remote communities worldwide. Learn about Margaux’s experiences from working at Toptal, one of the world’s largest fully remote organizations. Tune in and don’t miss out!


Lucas Root: Margaux, thank you so much for joining me. I have really actually very much enjoyed getting to know you over the last month or so since we connected. A couple things that I'm really excited about talking about today is number one, you're a supporter of women in tech, something that is very close to my heart.

Not the tech part. I don't much care about that, but women in general. [00:01:00] And then the second, as a community builder your focus is very much global and and I'm really excited about that. So I'm going to turn it over to you real quick. Why don't you tell your, our audience a little bit about yourself?

Margaux Miller: Thanks, Lucas. Yeah. And great to be here having a conversation about community, something I could talk far too long about. So we'll see how long we do. Right. Talking about community. So, yeah, my name is Margaux Miller. I'm based in Canada, but as you said, do a lot of work globally. On a day to day, I work for an organization called Toptal, where we are a very, very large global talent marketplace, and we are also one of the world's largest fully remote organizations.

So, that is interesting. It means that, like, me and all my peers and everybody that we support in this network of thousands of people around the world are all totally remote and are in over [00:02:00] 120 countries. So pretty interesting angle to community building that I've really loved digging into over the last few years.

But like you mentioned at the outset, I've also done a lot of kind of personal work, volunteer time, extra community building facets around women in tech groups. I founded a group in my city and I'm also one of the founding members and advisory board for a large group called Women Tech Global Network.

Which again is a global, fully kind of virtual community, and there's a lot of these now, these virtual communities that are really amazing. I think, you know, a lot of people building communities today are probably building them from that angle. I don't know how many people you've had on your show, Lucas, talking about it from that angle.

But certainly you know, something we can dig into today, talk a little bit about those differences and some of the things that the common kind of hurdles that might come up for people really wanting to connect a group of people, a community that's totally virtual and spread out really across the world.

You know, how do you do that in an easy way?

Lucas Root: Love it. [00:03:00] One of my favorite examples of that is the Hacker Collective Anonymous which I think is probably a really good example of a community and probably one of the more earlier versions of a global online community. And I think about them. I don't talk about them a lot, but I think about them a lot from the perspective of what does it look like to build and engage a fully online global community.

And how do you use the rules of conduct right inside the community to make sure that the people who are there, and this is especially true in a hacker collective. The people who are there are respected within the expectations of what it is.

Margaux Miller: Yeah. And how do you give those people freedom of voice at the same time, like in a virtual kind of chat room, if you're deleting messages or shutting people down, because they're breaking the rules of that community. You know, that's important. You have to have boundaries and set those rules. People know what's [00:04:00] appropriate and allows the people to actually like, have a more meaningful conversation.

Because they know what's appropriate, lets them kind of come out of their shell within that set safe space. I know you talk about this on your show sometimes too, but then it's like the other side of the coin is, you know, if people are seeing messages being removed or a lot of policing kind of happening, for lack of a better word, you know, how are you doing that in a way that encourages the right behaviors as opposed to just makes people feel like, ah, this is not a place where I can totally you know, communicate in the way that I want to. So, and, you know, I'll also add Lucas when you talked about kind of this hacker community and also, you know, some of the early online communities. I think there's really easy examples that like everyone can think of too, that we forget about things like Wikipedia, right? Like it is a very early online community.

It totally is. Even the editors are like people that they select from the community and move up, you know? So there's this interesting, like there's [00:05:00] platforms like that, that I don't think we quite realize that are using a lot of community principles to build something really amazing online. And it's an example that we can all kind of look at.

Lucas Root: That's a great example. And you're right, I had, even I had completely forgotten about that.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, because it's all crowdsource. It's a lot of people sharing, you know, they're overriding each other. They're going up to the people who are editing and the editors are often people pulled from the community that go up into those roles. There's a lot of, even that first layer, I'm pretty sure is volunteer kind of community built layer.

Like think of it like a community leader. And then after that, I think, but it's basically, to my understanding, it's a hugely community run organization. Like most of the content development and even editing is community based.

Lucas Root: Yeah I mean, as soon as you mentioned that, it immediately became clear to me. And I was like, yep, I need to, I need to remember that Wikipedia is absolutely community. It's, it's not just crowdsource knowledge, it is community. [00:06:00] People are contributing to it that it's a, it's a live, ongoing conversation.

There are, you know, I talk about the, the social contract. There are rules about how you play inside that community. Leadership isn't hierarchical and assigned, but rather. You step into leadership, it's it's sort of community supported leadership.

Margaux Miller: Yep. Like lifting up those kind of like veterans or those people in the community, the elders in the community, you know, that kind of terminology within it. Actually, total sidebar here, Lucas, fun activity for people listening. We played a kind of online icebreaker kind of game with our team recently.

Or like a team, team building, I'll call it, not an icebreaker, but like an online team building game. And it was... Take two different Wikipedia pages, totally unrelated, and get from one to the other without ever clicking backwards. Because you know how Wikipedia pages are just full of links? Like, every random word is linked.

Like, if you're on the page for fish, you know, one of the words will be lake somewhere, and lake will be linked. So then you could go there, and then eventually you could [00:07:00] get to, like, a lake in a certain country, and then get to that country, and then... So without ever clicking backwards, you have, like, two totally random Wikipedia pages, and you have to get from one to the other.

We had one the other day, and it was like... an election in Rwanda in 2003 and we had to get there from you know some lake page or something and I played it for the first time I thought to myself how the heck do you do this and got myself stuck a few times but quite quite a fun like for people who are Good on computers, good with, you know, it doesn't even, you know, maybe not even good with computers, but just people who are doing online activities, super kind of fun sidebar Wikipedia fun game you can play.

Looks like I'm plugging Wikipedia here today, Lucas, but no affiliation to be clear.

Lucas Root: That's awesome. Now I'm, I'm down for it.

Let's, let's play. Let's plug with, they're, they're great. I can plug

Margaux Miller: Yeah, you'd play. Yeah. Okay, where were we? Talking communities.

Lucas Root: Talking community. You introduced TopTile and the [00:08:00] global community. Tell me a little bit about the community that you're building right now. Mm

Margaux Miller: Yeah, I mean, TopTel's been really amazing since long before I was there at the very beginning, they cared about community, which is really cool to see. I think a lot of companies like come into that later and realize they should have a team like ours that is responsible for like maintaining or growing a community.

Our role is a little different than some organizations where they're trying to grow like external brand marketing type communities, you know, that get sales at the end of the day. What we're really focused on is because we're a talent network, right? So we have all these people, again, like over 120 countries.

We've got talented individuals who are working on demand. So the people who haven't heard of us think of, for example, a really skilled freelance computer programming engineer. Okay. We're using very broad terms here for the, for a broader audience. So you've got this person who can, who's in Croatia, let's [00:09:00] say, who's a very skilled engineer, computer programmer.

Maybe they're an expert in C sharp. Okay. We have a client that needs that. They're in our network. Like they've done tests. to get in. Much high level screening. There's like six layers of testing to get into the network at TopTel. Once they're in, they're on demand and ready to go kind of anytime. They can turn their hours on and off and they can, we can put them out to these opportunities that don't have to be in Croatia.

They can be anywhere in the world. You know, a lot of our clients are in the U. S. let's say, for example, so they could go work for a client in the U. S. So then our job is we have all these people that have gone through that process. They're vetted, they're in our network and they're not exclusive. So they can also have their own jobs on the side and other things like that.

So our community is really meant to connect all of these individuals from around the world, mostly highly technical skilled people to one another with the goal of engaging them, retaining them, keeping them as part of our community at Top Tail so that they thrive and really have the best [00:10:00] opportunities.

In that life that they're living as someone who wants to be an on demand talent.

Lucas Root: Hmm. Mm

Margaux Miller: So, and I mean, we can say that a lot more concisely, but giving you kind of the background of everybody there. Really it's, it's a community of people that are wanting to develop their skills as an on demand talent. And so some of that can mean personal because you might not know, Hey, how do I, you know, how do I navigate?

The intricacies of being a, you know, call it a freelancer or contractor, those words that might resonate more. How do I, how do I navigate that in this small city in India? How do I navigate that in Canada? I'm in Canada. How do we navigate that? Our rules and laws are all different. So when this community comes together, they can really help each other.

And not only the like, we're not talking necessarily legal and tax advice, but we're talking like even I want to start Working nomadic because I can with this type of environment, right? How do I do that? Let's say right like and [00:11:00] these people in this community are all the same as you None of them are working full time permanent jobs for a company as a salaried employee Otherwise, they wouldn't be in our network, right?

So if they're in this boundary community, they're just like you, they're facing the same things. And so we really try and connect people to help them like find that sense of belonging with people living the same kind of lifestyle as they are and working the same kind of work style as they are. We allow them lots of opportunities to showcase and share their knowledge too, which is something a lot of these people really want to do.

Our community is a bunch of people that are. Very skilled. There are little ways into their career already. Like these are not you won't pass our tests and get in if you're day one, because we have to be able to put you out to clients and really you have those skills that stand on their own. So they're showcasing and sharing their knowledge, but at the end of the day, like bottom line is they're developing themselves both personally and professionally to continue to live that lifestyle that they want to live, which is afforded to them by doing this kind of work, like being part of an on demand kind of talent network.[00:12:00]


Lucas Root: it.

Margaux Miller: Probably a lot of inferences in there about what my team does to be able to achieve that, but we can dig into some of that today for sure.

Lucas Root: Yeah. I heard some really interesting things and maybe this will take us off the path and maybe that's okay. But the first is while I was listening to you, it occurred to me that. Inside a traditional company that has traditional corporate boundaries, the HR organization probably assumes. And I don't actually agree with this, but the HR organization probably assumes that the job of building and maintaining community inside the corporation is the job of HR.

And so when you're talking about your team and the role that your team plays inside TopTal and, and you, you raised this, you said, you know, a lot of other people think about building a team like yours, but they think about it from a different perspective. They think about it from a marketing and sales [00:13:00] perspective, engage the wider community of top towel or whatever company we're talking about.

In, in bringing in attention, bringing in resources, bringing in customers because of course money follows attention if, if we do a good job of getting people to pay attention to us, then also we're going to get customers. The internal community, I think most people, including HR, most people assume is the job of the HR organization.

And I think that's a bad assumption.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, absolutely.

Lucas Root: So you brought that up and that sort of sparked that idea in my head, but you also brought up some really cool other ideas. And, and I, you know, we get to take a look at this and play around with what we had. The first is the idea of building a community. So one of the, one of the elements of community is value, not value is not like, I'm showing up with, with community because they have a high integrity [00:14:00] rather.

The value that I receive and the value that I contribute and the intersectionality of how the value that you are contributing you, the other person aligns with the value that I want to receive me, me, the person showing up to receive it. And so you're talking about. The boundaries of the internal talent community.

So you have these tests that people have to pass. And in order to get inside those boundaries, they have to pass those tests. They have to be a few steps into their career. At least they have to have some level of mastery. And so for me, that is value that I'm receiving all the people that I'm.

Interacting with have at least a certain level of assumed baseline and reasonably so because you're protecting that. The second thing is I get to decide that I want to show up and share my mastery. I get to decide which pieces of mastery that are being shared. I want to show up and receive. [00:15:00] You talked about how do I make it possible for me to be a digital nomad while also being, you know, effective as a magnetizing.

You know, as a contractor, so that intersectionality of, of shared and received value.

Margaux Miller: You've hit so many kind of nails on the head. And I think it's a hard for a lot of people who are running kind of dynamic communities to be able to pick one thing to say, you know, this is the true profit or value that my community is receiving, or, you know, okay, we have a purpose, but we actually have more than one purpose because it depends who you talk to, right.

But it's this exercise of like going really granular, right. And getting down to the core of what it is. And you made some really good points there, Lucas, for us, you know, it's almost like when you get down to the core of it, no matter what side you look at it from, you could argue that it's the same goal because the value of these really skilled people, we call them talent.

So I'm going to keep using that word, but the value of these really [00:16:00] skilled talent being the best like independent. on demand talent they can be. We all want that. We want that. Everybody wins from our side, right? As a business, there's an obvious angle there, but they win in every way. If they can be the best version of that kind of skilled worker, then.

They are going to receive more roles. They're going to feel more pride in their career. They're going to be able to escalate their skills and improve their skills and grow and grow personally and professionally. And so every like it's at the core, it really is the same. And there's so many things that we do to help achieve that.

And that's where it gets complicated. Cause people say, well, you know, our team might, for example, Run events to connect people so that the value of that amazing network they get when they're in those boundaries like you alluded to. We might run upskilling and training so if they know one programming language but maybe another one's really in demand right now and like the world is asking for it.

Maybe we offer free training for that adjacent skill so that they can continue to grow in their career. Maybe we [00:17:00] offer it for free as part of our network once you're within the walls, you know.

Lucas Root: Yeah,

Margaux Miller: it's okay. You could argue. Okay. But learning is a big purpose of ours. I read there's all these things that we do.

We have many like chat channels. They can talk in

Lucas Root: it's not

so much learning.

Margaux Miller: other. So

Lucas Root: You have a, you have a model. This is, this is actually kind of cool. It's something that I pay attention to, like business models. You have a business model and an on demand talent person is selling skilled time. So in order to be able to get more money for that. You need to be able to change the equation a little bit.

Now we can't change the equation for time. You know, we've been working on it. I'm, I'm a physicist. We've been working on it for a long time. I can tell you we can't change the equation for time. So if you want to raise the price and you do top towel wants to raise the price that they're charging, so that that increases your profitability and your talent wants to raise the price that increases their profitability.

Again, we can't stretch the time, but what we can stretch is [00:18:00] the skill. Portion of that skilled time. So the incentives are aligned. The thing I like to say to the incentives are aligned between you, your client and your customer, right? Your client, the person who wants the talent and your customer, the talent themselves, the incentives are aligned to make sure that that talented person is always exposed to more opportunities to increase their skill.

All three levels of that incentive ladder are improved every single time that person increases their skill.

Margaux Miller: Yeah. And let's talk about like a really simple part of that even. So if someone's trying to increase their skill, there's obvious things you think of, like taking a training program, you know, like an example I just gave, but you can increase your skills in much more subtle ways. Like maybe we've got chat rooms as part of our community.

Well, we do not maybe, but we've got these, we've got places people can chat. And we've got different, like different spaces they can do that in, that are all kind of labeled by different skills and interests and geographic areas and [00:19:00] things like that. So. Say you want to, you want to get into that new programming language, but in just like a subtle way, communities offer a space for conversation around shared interests, like say this new programming language you want to learn.

So there's a space for it. Think of it like a micro community. That's how I kind of label it often. So you can go into that micro community space, and it's part of this broader community, but not everyone cares about that programming language, let's say, right? But they all are still same goal. But then those people can go there and just have a chat.

Maybe someone's in there. Maybe Lucas, you're in there and you often share the you know, cool articles on what's new with that programming language, how people are applying it now with chat GPT or with AI or whatever, right? So you're in that channel and you're just constantly like learning a little bit.

Maybe you even already have that skill. So you don't need the obvious training program, but you want to just continue to be better. Being part of a community who speaks the same language as you, you're talking about language a lot too. Who speaks that same language where you can right away just get into that conversation about that, that programming language without needing to [00:20:00] you know, start at square one, explain how skilled you already are.

No, I'm not at a university. I'm already in my career. Like, like, no, I want more information. Everyone like there's still layers of how expert people are for sure within our network within our community. But they're all, their baseline is all already quite high, right? So you can jump right in to having like really interesting conversations with your peers in the community about those things.

So even just facilitating spaces for meaningful conversation around people's shared interests or skills. It's hugely impactful.

Lucas Root: Yeah Yeah, I completely agree. And even if there's no actual training, and you made this point and it's really important, even if there's no actual training, just having people that you can have conversations with, A, it levels up the ways that you think about the skill that you're bringing to bear. B, it levels up the way that you talk about the skill that you're bringing to bear.

And in so doing, at the very core level, if it changes the language you're using, it's also changing [00:21:00] the skill itself.

Margaux Miller: I love to use the example all the time of thinking of in person because I think people often think of virtual connection like that to be a little more difficult, but think of it in the sense of. If you were working, you're in, you're, you work independently. Okay. Maybe you're within a company or not, but you know what, or you're like a solopreneur or whatever you are, but you're, you pretty much do your job by yourself.

You have someone you report to, but functionally. So if you're doing that job and you're working and you're by yourself at home, And you have a question, okay, there's online forums, you can like log in, do whatever, things like that. But like, ultimately, you're probably just kind of doing a lot of it yourself.

If you're physically in a space, surrounded by a bunch of people with the same skill as you, so say again, I'm, you know, I'm using, keep using this programming example, but say I'm a machine learning expert, we'll use a different example. And I'm in a space by myself, and I'm, and I'm doing my work. Now say I'm in a room full of machine learning experts, all around me.

They don't work on my same job as me, but they're just all around [00:22:00] me. Probably I'm going to be able to, like, if I have little questions, get them answered a lot faster or feel maybe more motivated because I'm seeing people doing the same kind of work as me when I walk by their screens or whatever, their whiteboarding, okay?

Now, you go, okay, Margo, those are two extremes. We didn't get the one of virtual kind of camaraderie. Think of like a Slack channel or a Discord channel or a WhatsApp channel or whatever you use. If it's clearly labeled as like, this is the machine learning chatter space and they're in there, there's a hundred people or however many that all have that same interest and are working on the same kinds of projects because they're all machine learning experts.

It's so akin to being sitting in a room with all those people because you have it on demand on your computer, that chat space all around you with people who are like, Hey, did you read that article yesterday about the machine learning? Like new project that this company just did. And they released this information on how, what they created.

That's going to happen in a physical space. It's also going to happen if you facilitate online conversation in a [00:23:00] dedicated space in the same way.

Lucas Root: I love that. So let's talk about learning real quick. You're a child and you have a question about the world, something interesting, and you go to your parents, your mother, let's say, and You know, when you're very, very young, your mother just answers the question. Now, let's, let's put this family inside the community model.

You get to the point where you have some relationship with some of the community, and as soon as you get there and you go to your mother and you ask a question, your mother says, that's a great question and I can answer it, but you know who might be able to answer it better? Why don't you go over to Ben or George?

Have a conversation with them about it. So you do. In that way, the core purpose of community is actually to ease the friction of knowledge transfer, ease the friction of skills upleveling. Now we live inside a weird world. We live inside a world where that model has been taken and [00:24:00] reproduced. And in some ways, really, really well, Google rose to absolute world domination by being able to take that exact model ask a question and somebody will be able to direct you to a person who is able to provide that answer to you, right?

Go to your mother, ask your mother a question. She can direct you to the blacksmith or to the librarian or to the, you know, the car mechanic. That's the model that Google created, and they did a very, very good job of being able to redirect you from the question to someone who can answer that. What has happened over the last sort of five ish years is that we've become, 10, 15 years ago Google did such a great job, we became so reliant on them, that instead of going to our mother or our best friend, instead of me calling you, Margo, and saying, Hey I have questions about... Machine learning experts can you direct me to a community? Now we [00:25:00] go to Google first. And Google, of course, has created a brilliant business model on top of that, where you go to Google and instead of now getting the answer to the question that you want, you get 17 different ads that you have to scroll through before you can start to find the answer that you want. And I don't know about you, but most of us are starting to notice that the friction is mounting in knowledge transfer. I want to go find the expert who can give me the answer to the question that I want. What you're describing here, Margo, is The, the most basic value of community, the most basic purpose of a community is to ease the friction of up leveling skills.

And what you've created is you've created a space where true experts can sit in a room and talk about their expertise. And it's easy for the people who want that value in their life to be able to just drop in and start to up level their skills.[00:26:00]

Margaux Miller: Yeah. And, and what I'll add to that too, when you were talking about, you know, when people jump in and they answer each other, it's like the beauty of a really well run community is when the community answers each other and you don't have to, like as a, as a paid team kind of running the show. Right. So, because you want to cultivate this space where everyone has.

The right permissions, the right freedoms, the right language, the right space where they can just do that. Right. And where they are just learning together and answering each other's questions. And like, occasionally you need to come in to answer something, but otherwise, like someone's jumping in, you know, to do that for you because the community has been you know, led in such a way that they.

That they can, that they'll just like that they want to support one another again toward that kind of shared goal that they all have and that that's really clear to them as part of the value they get within that space. You know, that's kind of the key everyone wants to unlock in their communities when they're working toward a really great one.[00:27:00]

Lucas Root: I love it. That's amazing. Yeah, sign me up.

Margaux Miller: Right?

Lucas Root: I'm ready.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, yeah. When the community runs itself, yeah, then it's like we should be out of a job, right? Like that's, that's like what they always say when you're doing a job really well, that you should be able to like replace

yourself ultimately. Yeah.

right? Like talking, like work your way out of it.

That'd be like the perfect community, right? Where it's like we almost don't need to be here, that's just, they know how to run themselves. Cause it's, cause community truly is that, right? It's not a single leader pointing everyone in the right direction. It wouldn't make it a community. Yeah,

Lucas Root: Amazing.

Wow. Is there is there one or more than one of the six elements of community that you'd like to talk about as it relates to this?

Margaux Miller: yeah, gosh, I mean, I feel like we've been kind of talking about them this whole time in a few ways, but

Lucas Root: We've been dancing around the bush.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, we have been we've touched on a few for sure. You know, I'm happy to jump [00:28:00] in anywhere on them in advance of today I had read some of yours and one of the ones that you kind of like put out to me just before the call today, but that wasn't in kind of the sheet that I had read.

So I wanted to see if we could talk about that one a little bit. We'll put me on the spot here. But you talked about social contract as being a

Lucas Root: Yeah.

Margaux Miller: for you now. Was that when you kind of added a little bit after the core ones? Or did I just maybe see a wrong document when I was getting ready?

Lucas Root: You're 100 percent right. I, I, I brought that into my into my framework in January or February. I, I knew that it existed and I knew it needed to be a part of the conversation. I, I didn't want it to be a pillar. I'm going to be honest.

Margaux Miller: Yep. You want to be part of another one.

Lucas Root: I did.

Margaux Miller: Yep.

Lucas Root: But I, you know, January or February, somewhere in there.

And I just realized that I, I was resisting this for the wrong reasons. And it really is a pillar and, and one of the ways that you can tell [00:29:00] that it's a pillar is if every single other, if we, you're like, all right, where does it fit? Does it go in here? And, and the answer is always yes for all of the other pillars. If it fits into all of the other pillars, well, then probably it's part of the framework. It's part of the net that holds the whole thing together.

Margaux Miller: Interesting. Yeah. what does social contract mean to you today? And then I'm happy to kind of add to it.

Lucas Root: in a very simple way, it's the rules that we choose to live by inside the community when we are engaging with the community or engaging for the community.

Margaux Miller: Yeah. You know, I talk about rules a lot. And in fact, we even hosted an event today with the leaders in our community. So we do have kind of an ambassador program, a community leader program to elevate people in our community that want to kind of give back. Maybe they want to Yeah. Facilitate deeper engagement with those micro communities that I allude to, you know, smaller groups within the community that have really tight, shared interests or [00:30:00] skills or again, you know, they could be geographically all the same area doing their work.

And so I want to get to know people with the same lifestyle and work style as them in their area. So all kinds of reasons why people would make a micro community, but, I talk about rules all the time because sometimes, you know, a new leader might come to us and say, Hey, like in my, in my chat channel, I'm having trouble getting people to really talk.

Like no one was there before I came in and now I'm, you know, asking questions and I'm not getting a lot of interaction. And so we often tell them, like, make rules and, and, because I'm sure you talk about this too, with social contracts are a much better term than rule because people think of rules like you're in trouble or you can't do something, right?

But they're often really positive to have these. A rule might be as simple as in this channel. We don't, and people probably see this in Facebook channels a lot in this channel or this space, we don't allow solicitation. Like you're not allowed to post selling something. Okay. Or, or, or trying to engage in that way.

And [00:31:00] so that's a rule and it is like, don't do this kind of thing. But then, but then what it does do is it allows the space to be this positive conversation on the things you want it to be. So. When you eliminate those things, then the conversation and you point them toward the things you want, and maybe you have a couple other rules that are like, here's what we do talk about here, it allows that to happen.

And people when they have that, that, that clear direction on how they should participate. Are going to participate much more freely and meaningfully. So that's when, when it's clear, then you will have people that will comment a little more, ask their own questions. Because if at first they're only seeing you ask questions, Maybe they don't know they're allowed to also ask questions.

Maybe they come there and that's all they see. So they think, okay, all I do is react to the emojis or answer, but looks like as a newcomer, I don't actually ask. It's all this one guy who asks. So, okay, I won't do it. Right. So they need to know, they need to be offered that. How do you participate in this space and some kind of like contract [00:32:00] or rules or kind of, you know, clear communication of how to interact will allow you to do that.

So, and then the. I'm talking a lot here, Lucas, but the backhand of that is you need to have someone who can enforce those because if you don't enforce them, you haven't gotten anywhere. And sometimes being that person to enforce them can feel really awkward because sometimes you're like, well, you know, like.

The guy wanted help with this thing he's creating. It's kind of solicitation, but like, at least people are talking, so maybe I'll leave it. I don't want, he's a new member. I don't want to make him feel bad. So then you don't, you don't kind of police it, right? You don't enforce those rules. But then you're, you've just ruined everything though, because you're allowing the thing that you don't want to happen.

And then other people come in, they see that wrong behavior, they mimic that, or they don't communicate in the positive way because now they feel like it's not the space for them. So you've kind of torn down everything. If you're not brave enough, it takes bravery, brave enough to enforce that social contract or that set of rules that have been set up.

Lucas Root: I love that. [00:33:00] So I'm a runner among other things. And I, I spent most of my twenties not being a runner. I, I, you know, I, I played soccer and I did other things that were highly physically active so that I wouldn't have to be a runner. It is what

it is.

Margaux Miller: on that one.

Lucas Root: Yeah, it is what it is. I have come around. I am a runner.

When I first started running, I read a book by a guy who approached running as a game. He, he more or less was at the same point in his life that I was in mine. And he said, well I, I need running in my life and running is boring. Like he, he describes the scene where he's driving by the a stoplight.

And there's a guy standing there on the corner of the stoplight jogging in place, and he's like, I never want to be that guy. Never, ever, hell with that. And I get it. I totally get it. And he said, he said to himself, and this has stuck with me ever since, is the reason why I'm [00:34:00] bringing this up. He said to himself games have rules, and games are fun. And if I'm gonna approach running as a part of my life, then I need to treat it like a game, and games have rules, and so I need to build some rules into the way that I bring running into my life. So that I can create something that's fun me. That has, that has stuck with me since. I, I've never been able to move away from that.

Thankfully, I think it's fantastic.

Margaux Miller: You're seeing the positive side of rules then is kind of the moral of the story here.

Lucas Root: Yeah,

Margaux Miller: What they can help you achieve. Yeah.

Lucas Root: that, that rules make it possible for us to have fun. Otherwise, you know,

Margaux Miller: Yep. Yeah. Without boundaries and without rules, you actually don't have a community. Like it goes back to the basics and you talk about this too, Lucas. It's like, you go back to just, you're just a group of people that came together and like, okay. you're not going to, it's not going to act like a community and it won't achieve that goal that you're, that you're looking for.[00:35:00]

Lucas Root: so from, from that perspective, social contract, yeah, it's about the things that you can't do. But also. When you make it about the things that you can't do, sometimes that illuminates and makes it fun to have the things that you can do. Baseball just wouldn't be very much fun if there was no foul line.

Like, we need, we need inbounds in order for us to be able to play the game. Otherwise, it's, it's just too big.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, it's just too big. you can think of that kind of not so literal when you're talking about communities. Yeah,

Lucas Root: Cool. That's, that's the, that's the place I start from for for the social contract and, and for rules in general. I start from it's just too big and too big is not fun, how do we, how do we make it narrower so that it can be fun?

Margaux Miller: yeah. And I can, I can give a really good virtual example for people that have teams that are spread out. [00:36:00] Maybe they're just kind of starting on this path of trying to engage groups that are not all physically in the same space. If you do have some kind of like chat space. And you do not already have a dedicated channel just for fun conversation.

I would highly encourage you to make one. A lot of these people have a team channel where, okay, you're smaller team. It's a space where you can talk about anything, but it's part work and part like, Hey, here's my picture from the weekend. But what happens is like. Over time, if there's too long of a period of work in a row or there's a new person who comes and they happen to come in that period, you're going to go back to what I was just talking about, right?

They won't know how to interact or what to post because they're not brave enough necessarily at first, right? And that's, we're not talking like life bravery, but it's a, it's an easy way to think about, you know, the struggle someone might have when they come in with that uncertainty. And so if you have this kind of channel dedicated just to fun call it something clever like team chatter or whatever you want to do.

It doesn't have to be like overly silly because maybe your corporate culture, that's [00:37:00] not part of it, but make it clear in the description of that, of that space, of that channel. This is what we're using it for. Say something like sharing pictures of your, of your life. You know, talking, like supporting colleagues with milestones.

So maybe that's like birthdays, anniversaries, whatever, like work anniversaries, birthdays, whatever, you know, and that's it, let's say you know, family and friends, whatever you want to call it, share your pets, share pictures, your kids, whatever you, whatever makes sense for your group. But then as soon as someone posts something in that channel that is not of that description, publicly, I would put a note on it and say, like, Hey, Lucas.

Great question. It belongs in this channel. But hey, could you tell me about your weekend? I'd love to know. So you're bringing it back to the conversation about that chat that the channel should be. You're politely saying, Hey, Lucas, not the space. So other people when they see that go, Oh, right, right, right.

That's where you ask that question. Okay, right. Oh, cool. Let me tell you about my weekend. They bring it back to the right space. So you have to do that kind of boundary setting and [00:38:00] keeping as the channel leader. But as soon as you do that, what happens is, and I've done this from experience, what happens is, You have to first start that channel by showing the activity.

So you have to be brave enough at first you open it. You have to share your own pictures. You have to share your own stories. You have to get that ball rolling as the leader. Okay. You might even want a private message. One or two people also on the team, maybe some other at all levels and say, Hey, do you mind sharing something this week?

I'm trying to get this channel going and let people know what's okay. So then they go in there privately, then they go in the channel, the space, they add their own stuff. Everyone else sees this trend. Before you know it, like we talked about before with communities running themselves, that channel will run itself.

You will barely need to keep posting as the leader because the team amongst themselves will be so happy to have this free space where they can talk about, you know, and share just their personal fun things without feeling like, am I overdoing it because this is a workspace? Or, or, and obviously... Let's not go the other direction and boundaries.

I'm sure your team, it's still a professional environment. You can police that. If you, if it comes up, I've never [00:39:00] had it come up. People are just super happy to share their vacation pictures, their wedding pictures, you know, their, their celebrate birthdays and you get 20 messages wishing someone happy birthday because it also takes that birthday staff or whatever it is.

Out of professional spaces where you really do want people focused on work. So you're going to win that way too because it's not going to clutter. You haven't, you've asked an important question. Now it gets pushed way up because there's a bunch of birthday hellos. You know, you're, you're actually separating them and you win as a leader as well from a business perspective by having

Lucas Root: Yep.

Margaux Miller: space.

Lucas Root: I love it. That's funny. One of the things that you'll laugh at me, but one of the things that I really double down on making sure that I police isn't the right word, but I'm on top of it.

Margaux Miller: I know I use that word too.

Lucas Root: Yeah, is is responding in the thread in slack.

Margaux Miller: Yes.

Lucas Root: It drives me crazy when people just respond to something as a new message.

Margaux Miller: And it gets [00:40:00] pushed way down. Yeah. We have rules in some channels to use them and some channels to not, which is quite can be quite confusing. It doesn't come from my level necessarily, but it I see advantages of both. And sometimes people want different things, but in general, I'm with you. If it's like a quick answer and they're taking up space and pushing things up. Odd pet peeve in our little sidebar here.

Lucas Root: Yep, it is

Margaux Miller: You know, I just like,

Lucas Root: pet peeve.

Margaux Miller: I think so often Lucas, but I listened to great content and I read great books, but I love the ones that give practical examples. And so that's what I try and sometimes do. That's why I gave you that sidebar of hey, if you want your own kind of fun channel, here's how you can do it.

Here's how you can use those boundaries and rules and social contract to kind of set that space up for success.

Lucas Root: Well, and what's really cool here is you, you didn't just share that. You also shared a fun, lighthearted way of setting boundaries and enforcing them in a way that's [00:41:00] not going to leave people feeling like push, put out.

Margaux Miller: Yeah.

Yeah. Good. I'm glad. Yes, I know. Practical examples. I think it's just so helpful to know how you can do that because if we can talk broadly about the concepts of community building until we're blue in the face, but then if someone's just listening and saying, okay, rules boundaries, like, what does that look like?


know, it's hard. Yes. Yes, exactly. Our shirts today. We also use social contracts at the start of meetings or events sometimes. So we had a big event this week and Especially when you're doing it in person, highly recommend. So day one, if you have a multi day like team offsite or brainstorming sessions or meetings, it can be very professional things that you're doing with a group of people that have come together.

You can set a temporary social contract. And I think this is a really cool one to do. This is a kind of more like a, a gathering concept, like a bringing people together, which, which I relate so closely to community, but you can break them apart if you want to. So using a social contract for an event [00:42:00] might be like on the first day you facilitate a conversation, but you don't necessarily have bias in it and you let the group decide what they need to bring to the table for that.

So even people like Brené Brown talking about me leading your team and meetings and stuff talk about these concepts. So it's, you know, just one example, something like. Maybe I need people to really like thumbs up my idea as soon as I give it. Otherwise, I'm going to shut down. Like, I just know that for me, where I'm at right now, we're doing a full day brainstorm.

I need positive reinforcement. It's just where I'm at. I need it. Okay. So I throw that out there. I put it on the list. Positive reinforcement. Okay. Everyone goes, yeah, great. Like we don't, we're not against this idea. Everyone wants positive. Okay, great. Then the next one, someone says like, I need breaks every two hours because whatever reason, like, I need time to sit with the information.

I'm the kind of person who needs to sit with it. Okay, so positive reinforcement. The second one is we're going to take time to think about it breaks every hour. Great. Okay, you put that in there. So you have this set of, of rules. That doesn't need to be what you do every day at work for the next year.

It's just for that one day big come together [00:43:00] brainstorming session you're doing after that people have to agree on the rules So everyone you you kind of refine them, you know You do a bit of like a moderated exercise half an hour or whatever And it sets you up for so much success for the week Because now what do you think is going to happen anytime lucas gives an idea?

I give an idea someone else on the table gives an idea. We're going to be we're going to be supporting that idea And it was, and like, obviously you have to have good and bad ideas. You have to, things have to like, at the end of the day, you have to make progress, but it's going to be this much, this positive environment.

We're going to take the breaks that other guy needs to be able to, to sit with the information and come back with better ideas in the second, second, third, fourth phase of the day. So you're just, you're allowing people to be present in the way that they want to be. So these kind of rules or social contracts can be temporary for events and be so, so impactful.

And if you

Lucas Root: Yeah.

Margaux Miller: you Google like event social contract, how to set it up, you'll find ways to do this. And I highly recommend it. It sets up so much success for what's to come.[00:44:00]

Lucas Root: Love it. Another one on this, one of my favorites is when you're building a community, have a pledge.

Margaux Miller: Yes. Symbols and pledges are like you know, are often like really common things that can be used. It's why you see you know, big, like I'm watching my use of examples here, but big groups that have like a rah, rah, rah. And they might give you a pin as part of a symbol for your participation in that group.

And a pin is not a valuable item in the sense of cost or, or showmanship of what you're receiving. But people will wear, you'll see like certain groups, right? Think even like political groups or, or whatever. People will wear that pin with pride because they're very happy to be associated with that group.

And oftentimes there's a pledge of some kind, you know, think of sororities or fraternities. They have symbols, the symbol of that [00:45:00] fraternity. There's like the Greek, you know, whatever, they have a Greek symbol of some kind. That they really resonate with and represent during that period of time. They're part of that group, that community, very much a community.

And they probably have some kind of chant, right? Sports teams even, chants,


Lucas Root: They also, like TopTile, they took a test to get in.

Margaux Miller: Right, exactly. So there's boundaries to it, they don't accept everybody into sorority or fraternity. And so you have all these things. And so, things like rituals. It's super common. So having like a, like an entrance ceremony, a symbol, giving like a pin, a pledge of people saying I'm going to do this and I'm going to represent this sorority to the best of my ability while I'm here, rah, rah, rah, of those things help you feel so connected to that community and they can be as simple as you spending a dollar a pin per person.

You know,

Lucas Root: Yeah,

Margaux Miller: yeah. Symbols, rituals, pledges, that kind of stuff. That's really, we're getting into like the weeds here of interesting things because we're talking broad concepts before [00:46:00] but those are within the buckets of like things you should really do like when you're onboarding someone into your community and even like those things you can do over and over, right?

You can have someone kind of... repeat something or, or, or agree to something kind of numerous times over time. But not just when they're onboarded, you can also give symbols over time or, or that kind of stuff, rituals that repeat themselves. But there, those are pretty interesting concepts that people forget that are also pretty important.

I don't know, you're not calling them pillars here, but they probably fall within one of your pillars as something you should really continuously do and look at.

Lucas Root: Yep. Those, yeah I would slot those in under social contract, language, and projects,

Margaux Miller: Yeah,

Lucas Root: depending on which one we're talking about. Yeah I love language. It's a fun one to talk about, and like, the pins that you wear, that's, that's language. Like, Language goes all the way down to inside jokes and

Margaux Miller: like symbolism.

Lucas Root: eye contact and [00:47:00] body posture and even like hand gestures and wearing a pin or, you know, what, what color clothing you might be wearing.

Margaux Miller: Yep. Yeah. And that's where you can think of, Of oftentimes like brand communities, right? Where you are really given a very clear, like consistent voice that they're using, like when they're, when they're projecting anything you know, a certain like, yes, colors, things like that. But if you're part of that community, you kind of know, you know, the way that speech should happen, not just language as in words, to your point, Lucas.

I think it becomes very clear, like, When you're in that space, this is the energy and the way of communicating. Think of even like high fives at a, at a cycle gym or something, right? So you, you know, there's commute these cycle what's called a community cycle gyms, they really have these like amazing tight knit communities as part of going to cycle, going to an indoor, like biking class, right?

And they've [00:48:00] achieved that by implementing a lot of the principles of community building into this like gym workout environment. And when you walk in a lot of those, those cycle spaces, people will be giving you like a high five the minute you walk through the door. That's this, that's a piece of like, in my opinion, shared language.

Because you're, you know, that like high fiving is appropriate. It's this big smile, physical language kind of thing, but it allows you to like right away feel connected to somebody and feel like, oh, I'm allowed to do that. And that's the positive energy that I'm supposed to bring when I'm in this space, when I walk in those doors.

I am this... You know, supporting everyone, high fiving, high energy, you're awesome and you're awesome and I'm awesome kind of energy, right? And they've curated it like right from the start with things like a high five and a big smile.

Lucas Root: Love it. We've we've, we've bumped our heads against leadership a couple of times in this conversation. Do you want to talk about [00:49:00] leadership from a community perspective, just to just to bring it to surface the, the, the, the first place that leadership showed up in our conversation was in Wikipedia, where the leaders sort of self promote and then our community supported. Love that. 100 percent all there. The second place that it showed up was sort of a, an assigned leadership where we talked about sort of you as the leader have to go in and and start taking actions that you want the community to follow suit.

And at some point, the community will pick up and continue running. Maybe you as the leader have have worked yourself out of a job ideally. Right. And we talked about it from that perspective.

Margaux Miller: Right.


Lucas Root: to want to jump in on that.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, sure. I mean, there's a, a quote that I like from Charles Vogel. He has a book about principles of belonging. I'm sure you know it. A great book if anyone wants to dig into it. [00:50:00] But he says a community is not a product that can be manufactured, but it's It's a relationship or a set of relationships that needs to be cultivated.

And so I think it's, you know, we can have leaders that are helping create these spaces. But ultimately, it's like you're helping facilitate and cultivate relationships. I'm not just drawing something on paper and having our project engineering team put it in place. And now we've got a community, right?

And so. People who naturally are like stepping up into leadership roles within your community are so important and should be nurtured. And then there are, you know, there are people like me who are pointing, you know, pulling some levers to keep things in the right direction. And I've got an amazing team to help me with that around the world, I think.

You know, the dynamic of, of leadership within communities can vary so greatly from community to community, but there's this concept too of, of like inner rings [00:51:00] where, and that can be based on different things in different communities, but an easy example would just be like time in a community or expertise, like, like really connected time in that community.

So if you're someone who's been there a long time and you've always been very engaged in it. Over time, naturally, like you might have the basic ring, like everybody who comes in, then you've got that inner ring. I mean, people have been there for a few years and they really know how to interact and what goes on.

They can help that broader group, right? Then you've got the people maybe who are like your ambassadors or community leaders. Who can, who are really tasked with doing that, like they're paying attention, they're really trying, and they're passing things down to all those other groups, and when they maybe make a comment on something, maybe you've elevated them to a position where they have a special symbol of some kind to show that they're in that kind of inner ring of the community.

People might take their opinion more seriously so that when they're answering a question in that space or supporting somebody Oh, this person's been here for five years. They have the badge, you know, maybe they've had some training within this community They really know And I really trust their support and their [00:52:00] answer to my newcomer question as i'm a newcomer.

I have this question, right? and so That those layers of, like, inner rings can essentially, in some communities, form also this, like, inner layers of leadership that, again, you know, to some degree run themselves with guidance, of course, from, from the maybe paid team or the community leaders like I'm in, but but ultimately, like, again, leadership can show up in many forms, and I think that's a nice way to look at you know, using that concept of inner rings to look at how your community can really lead itself in many positive ways.


Lucas Root: I like it. Amazing. Inner rings.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, yeah. Really, like, your community is going to be the most durable when you're helping members be successful in a connected way. So, yeah,

Lucas Root: Going back to the early example of a kid asking mother for

Margaux Miller: right, as opposed [00:53:00] to just being free enough to go to that person beside them, to go to the person across the playground, yeah, to another teacher or whoever. Yeah. There's many places people can get information and when you're in a community, how much faster are you going to get it when you can ask the 10, 000 people around you in a virtual community versus like the one Margot, you know, director of community. Probably a lot faster.

Lucas Root: A whole lot faster.

Margaux Miller: Yeah.

Lucas Root: The basic purpose of community is to ease the transfer of knowledge.


At its most basic level, at its core. Amazing. Thank you, Margo. I like to I like to wrap up the interviews with three questions. First one is, for those people who have been inspired by you and want to reach out, what's the one best way for them to find you?

Margaux Miller: I am on pretty much every social media platform as Margot A. Miller. My name is [00:54:00] spelled a little crazy. So if you're just listening, M A R G A U X. A. Miller, Margot A. Miller. And on, on LinkedIn, I think I dropped the A, which is funny because it's on every other platform, but you will find me on there. No problem, especially if you type in the word community as well.

So yeah, super happy to connect. I think that this is a discussion that has so many interesting angles to it. Community building will, you know, will never end. It's all around us and everything that we do. So, you know, always happy to connect with people interested in this topic or, or, you know, we didn't actually dig into women in tech today.

Very much, but you can apply a lot of these principles to groups of people ret, like women in a certain community

Lucas Root: Mm hmm.

Margaux Miller: as well. So if that's something that you wanna talk about or you're involved with, happy to chat women in tech as well.

Lucas Root: Awesome. It's funny that you dropped the, a i when, when I, I came to social media a little bit late. 'cause I don't, I don't really, I don't consume social media. I didn't actually start getting [00:55:00] onto social media until I had something I wanted to share. And by the time I came to social media, Lucas Root was taken on

Margaux Miller: I'm sure. Yeah.

Lucas Root: which. And that's the reason why I'm Luke Root everywhere.

Margaux Miller: Oh, okay. I had Margot Miller, and then I changed it to the A, and then regretted it afterwards because it's hard to find me now. But hey, here we are. Margot A. Miller. We've just said it like six times, so I'm sure you'll find me.

Lucas Root: Margot A. Miller. Second question. is my curveball. This is the one that, that that

Margaux Miller: A test at the very end, Lucas? Come


Lucas Root: I know. I go, well, but you're all warmed up now.

Margaux Miller: All right, let's go.

Lucas Root: If there was any one question you wish I had asked you, what would it be?

Margaux Miller: Hoo, good one. Well, now women and texts on my mind because we were just talking about that. So I suppose, I suppose what's coming [00:56:00] to mind is, is, you know, having had an opportunity to, to talk about that a little more deeply or some of the, you know, maybe a question around what like in, in our lives, what kind of personal communities have resonated the most with us or like meant a lot to us.

You know, because we have our work that we do but then also we have what communities motivate us as humans individually.

Lucas Root: that's especially like salient for, for professional community builders like you and me.

Margaux Miller: Yeah, and, and you know, I'll mention that one thing that's super interesting is there are many times in my personal life Where I feel like it's the adage of, like, a mechanic whose car is always broken down. I find sometimes my own personal community drive is lax. Because I spend so much work time doing it and building it that when I'm participating, sometimes I, I run out of energy for it.

So it's, it's [00:57:00] really

Lucas Root: Hmm.

Margaux Miller: because it's like, it's innate in who I am. But at the same time, it's like... The mechanic whose car breaks down all the time. So, it's an interesting one that I've been paying more attention to lately.

Lucas Root: I, I, I love that. I'm a, I'm a chef among other things. And one of my favorite memes ever, and it's a meme and you know, it is what it is, is you, you see this person serving two plates of food and on one plate. Is this like amazing chef crafted meal and on the other plate is an opened can with some steam coming out of the top

Margaux Miller: Yeah,

Lucas Root: of it.

It's like this is, this is what you get when you're married to a chef on social media.

Margaux Miller: yeah, yeah, yeah. Because everything goes into the picture and then the other ones that you're actually eating. Yeah, precisely. Precisely. Yeah.

Lucas Root: I totally get it. You know, there should be a community for community builders who don't have time for community.

Margaux Miller: I mean, there's a lot of great community [00:58:00] builder communities. But yeah, not with that final caveat there for you. I'm sure we could make a micro community within one of them though.

Lucas Root: There we go. Now you're talking. Final question. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Margaux Miller: Oh gosh, Lucas, I think we covered so much today. I think that... This is such an interesting topic community in general, you know, we got into some great principles today but I think

Lucas Root: Hmm.

Margaux Miller: someone wants to understand community more You know reach out to us listen to more of of of this show and many other great kind of community resources that you can Find out there if you bug me on any social platform, i'll give you a great reading list If you're into that I do audiobooks as well.

So So I can give you my audio listening rebooket list also. So yeah, no, like no, no final big things I'm going to throw out as far as concepts, I think we went over so much today, but yeah, stay in touch. [00:59:00] The community path is never ending. Ultimately, like we said, it shouldn't ever really end, right?

Like, for a community to thrive, there needs to be continuous improvement. A community, okay, I am going to leave you with final thoughts, I guess. A community should always be looking for ways to improve, both for the individual members, but for the community as a whole. This means like, you know, regularly evolving your programs, your processes, what you're working on and making changes to stay aligned with the community's purpose and what that community is really telling you that they want because a community day one and what your goal and purpose is, you know, may not be the same as our world evolves around us.

So, you know, our job is never ending. Really?

Lucas Root: Hmm. Well done. Our job is never ending. Thank you, Margo.

Margaux Miller: Thanks, Lucas.

Thanks for joining us this week on Elements of Community. Make sure to visit our website, elementsofcommunity. us, where you can subscribe to the show in [01:00:00] iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or via RSS, so you'll never miss a show. While you're at it, if you found value in this show, we'd appreciate a rating on iTunes, or if you'd simply tell a friend about the show, that would help us out too.

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