Workplaces, teams and organisations are communities. Given the time and energy (physical, emotional and mental) that we put into our work, it's not unreasonable that we want our workplaces to be healthy, meaningful and supportive communities.
And in the best companies, this is the case. Recent surveys consistently highlight community or 'camaraderie' as one of the five key dimensions of an ideal workplace (the others are credibility, respect, fairness and pride - all of which reflect aspects of community).
A key element Goffee and Jones identify in their book, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?, is that followers want to feel like they belong to a community. They explain that the reason human beings engender a sense of belonging is because we are hardwired for sociability - and desire solidarity.
This role of being a community builder within an organisation is not simply about making things 'nice' for people, but ensuring that organisations create and sustain environments in which people can contribute their best. It’s a role that leaders should assume. There is no leadership without 'communityship'.
Here are four simple but powerful things that can help develop and support a sense of community:
- Know and use people's names
Remembering people's names can be a struggle. We know how it feels when someone who is known by a larger group is able to address us personally. We also know how it feels when someone we assumed knew us fails to acknowledge us. Social exclusion is painful.
Using people's names addresses a range of organisational issues. It helps bridge the communication gap that can exist where there are power imbalances. Those with less formal power or profile usually know (and are expected to know) the names of the power figures, but can feel anonymous in the presence of those people. This anonymity can stifle communication. It can also encourage people to 'hide' or fly under the radar. You are more inclined to behave in more accountable ways when you feel recognised by others in the community.
Using names also helps break down silos across organisations, and personalising other parts of the business helps maintain the human connections so crucial to working as a team.
- Create and share connections
Writer Jane Dutton explains in her book, Energize Your Workplace, the profound difference managers and leaders can make in activity and renewing energy by building and sustaining high-quality connections with co-workers, bosses, subordinates, customers - anyone with whom they have contact at work. Community and connection go hand-in-hand.
Encouraging, modelling and enabling richer, wider and frequent connections within and beyond teams and organisations helps enable and sustain a strong sense of community. Making and nurturing connections is not hard, but it does take intentional effort and attention.
- Celebrate achievements
Celebration is a hallmark of community. Who, what and how you celebrate sends tangible signals about your organisational values and culture. Celebration is often an overlooked aspect of management approach. There are plenty of opportunities, managers just tend not to prioritise it. Perhaps work is too busy or perhaps the spirit of appreciation and recognition is diminishing. If so, then a powerful community-building opportunity is being missed.
In a recent study on project teams, it was identified that the single most important thing that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress - even a small win - can make all the difference in how an individual feels and performs.
Celebrating small wins is simple, powerful and meaningful, and with a touch of appreciation, help reinforce that who we are and what we do matters.
- Actively seek input
To be in a community involves sharing: sharing of ideas, resources and interest (often described as vision, purpose or mission). Sharing is, of course, voluntary and discretionary, so it's important to not simply assume those contributions, but to actively seek, invite and encourage them (and express appreciation for them). By inviting and encouraging the sharing that creates community and drives productivity, innovation and improvement, leaders generate 'communityship'.
Building community is complex because it involves people, but the elements of building community in the workplace are often simple - as simple as using a person's name, creating or enabling a connection, celebrating someone or what they've done, and actively seeking their input.
It doesn't require a policy or strategy to build community, just a commitment; a commitment to initiate connections through small everyday actions.