“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” – Stephen R. Covey
Cambridge dictionary defines community as the “people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality.”
In a Harvard Business Review article, Henry Mintzberg expands on this definition (1), “Community means caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world, geographic and otherwise, and in turn being inspired by this caring.”
WHY IS COMMUNITY IMPORTANT?
Alfred Adler, a founding father of psychology, and a contemporary of Freud and Jung, viewed men and women as social beings. He deeply believed in the concept of community feeling – a genuine interest in the well-being of others – as being integral to healthy living. He also felt that true happiness comes – in part – from giving to others in a community setting.
For thousands of years, communities have thrived because they were able to work together as a unit. They had basic common interests (to survive), and shared common attitudes (typically of the same culture). While luck and environment did play a part, over time, the communities that flourished were those who worked better as a team.
Organizations behave similarly. So in order to fully benefit from the diverse talents of your people, fostering a strong sense of community is critical. We need to do so being cognizant of the changing face of the workforce, namely the surge of millennial ideals (conceptual age) versus the more traditional workforce (industrial age).
While this demographic split largely affects the demands of the modern workforce, the expectations of all workers have evolved.
As Dan Pink explains in A Whole New Mind, the exodus of manufacturing jobs to Asia, automation, and the abundance of choice, has created a shift in both the needs, and necessary skills, of workers in the Western world. The new Western model is ‘high touch’ (the pursuit of meaning) and ‘high concept’ (artistry, beauty). A strong sense of community in the workplace provides the foundation required to address this new reality.
The challenges in adapting to this ‘new reality’ are now top of mind for modern day leaders. This is reinforced by Deloitte’s article on engagement, which highlights how recruiting and retaining talent have become key strategic issues for CEOs (2). So where to start when faced with the challenge of fostering a greater sense of community:
Understanding the needs of today’s professional means relinquishing draconian measures, such as fixed working hours (when possible), and the cyclic laying-off of employees as a budget-meeting practice. Trusting employees to put in the efforts needed while addressing their personal challenges goes a long way. And while cost-cutting measures may be necessary at times, laying-off employees every time short-term objectives need to be met doesn’t promote trust. Replace these knee jerk reactions with conversations and programs that promote trust and long-term sustainability.
2. A NEW TYPE OF LEADER
The top-down approach of management is on its last leg. Modern day leaders need to be part of the team. They need to be engaged. Instead of managing from a pulpit, leaders need to address the pinch points for their teams from within, and act as facilitators.
3. CARE FOR EMPLOYEES WELL-BEING
Employees want to feel valued. Taking account of their well-being and providing progressive wellness programs to help them thrive in both mind and body health is paramount. The workplace should, and can, be a positive influence on employees’ overall health.
4. COMMON CAUSE
Employees want to feel that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. A strong common cause that bleeds into the extended community is critical for winning not only their minds but also their hearts.
5. GET PEOPLE CONNECTED
Platforms to share ideas and perspectives are critical for breakthrough ideas. While being technologically more connected, open and honest forums for sharing ideas are lacking. Diversity of conversation is a spark that helps communities thrive. Employees are ready to contribute beyond the potentially limited scope of their role. This can be especially beneficial when employees are involved in shaping long-term strategy.
To fully benefit from this expanded collaboration, managers need to be coached on how to actively listen. The common practice of developing objectives at a senior level, then involving employees at a later stage is transparent and lacks effect. Employees need to be heard not placated.
6. RECOGNITION AND SHARING WINS
Recognition begins with knowing people’s name. Extending the conversation beyond business challenges builds empathy and trust. Feeling like a valued part of a community starts with being recognized for both their successes and efforts, even in the face of failure.
7. PLAY TOGETHER
A McGill University study (3) showed that 15-minutes of playing the popular game Rock Band created empathy between complete strangers. Empathy is the glue that strengthens a community’s bond. Employees that play together, stay together.
1. Community and culture are now differentiating companies, and are critical for recruiting and retention
2. Trust and transparency are a critical foundation for creating a community feeling in the workplace
3. Show employees they are valued by leveraging wellness platforms, communication forums, and recognition
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Gary LeBlanc (B.Eng, MBA) – CEO of Ikkuma and positivity grenade – spent over a dozen years managing strategic operations for tier 1 companies. He’s now following his passion… to engineer a solution for our generation’s wellness.
Beth Corcoran (MA, CHRL) – Managing Director at Corcoran Consulting and shoe enthusiast – is a business consultant and coach, based out of Toronto, Canada. Beth has worked with thousands of employees as a coach, advisor, trainer, teacher, and clinician.