A sense of community and connection with others adds value to our lives. Often, we find it in our social circles, family or in extracurricular activities. When we are lucky, it happens at work too.
When we feel a sense of community, we feel connected to something larger than ourselves. That leads to a sense of belonging, which leads to commitment. When we feel committed to a cause or organization, we take action to continue that work. Not only does a sense of community add value to our lives, we are more productive and accountable.
Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
When we believe in the work we are doing and have trust in the people we are working with, it increases our happiness at work and thus the likelihood that we will stay on board as productive contributors. FiveStars, a marketing platform company, implemented a community-based philosophy and saw their employee engagement scores rise by 9% in 18 months.
Culture Compared to Community
When thinking about employee happiness and engagement, the term culture is often thrown into the mix. While a positive culture is an important component to an efficient and happy workplace environment, experts say that community ultimately holds more weight in employee engagement.
Claudia Fry, the VP of People at FiveStars, explains: “[Culture] is established by the company and employees are expected to be a part of it, to participate, even if it doesn’t fit their style or personality. Culture is about the company, and how you as an employee fit within it…. On the other hand, community is the manifestation of the people within it, guided by the company values. A community is constantly evolving as employees come and go, influenced by their individual perspectives, insight and experience. It’s authentic, taking into consideration what’s meaningful to the individuals, helping to create a sense of purpose in which community members intrinsically hold themselves and one another accountable for the company’s success.”
Communication & Community = Two Peas in a Pod
Communication and community both come from the Latin word communis which means common or sharing. It is no surprise that the two strongly impact one another. In a strong community, there is a shared focus on effective communication. Effective communication, of course, requires listening. Effective listening and communication takes intentionality on everyone’s part to continue to utilize positive and collaborative communication.
- In your next meeting, take some time to truly observe the communication patterns around you. The Systems Thinker suggests observing how people respond to others’ ideas.
- Do people respond with a contrasting idea or a disagreement in the form of “Yeah, but…” or “I disagree, I think…”, or do they ask for more information about the idea?
- In an environment focused on supportive listening, colleagues may ask “Tell me more” or “Why do you suggest that?” This allows people to truly understand one another and leads to authentic communication.
How Managers Can Build Community
Managers are important agents in creating community and can set favorable conditions to help in this endeavor. Whether ensuring open communication or creating meaningful opportunities for engagement such as social or volunteer events, managers are a powerful and crucial tool.
- Include direct reports in brainstorming and decision making processes
This allows people to feel included, heard and a part of the solution. In environments where employee contributions are truly welcomed, valued and implemented, people thrive. Employees consider themselves partners in the organization’s success, not just worker bees driving productivity based on management’s needs.
- Do not badmouth (the company, executive team or other departments)
Managers should be careful not to tear down the company in an effort to build up the team. In a bad moment, managers may badmouth or blame upper management. This can create an “Us Versus Them” mentality and create a divide between employees and the larger community. Sure, fighting “the man” may bring people together in the short-term, but it is not conducive to true community.
- Encourage and recognize teamwork within and across teams
Good managers create community within teams, while staying connected to the organization’s larger purpose. True community spans teams and works towards something greater.
- Acknowledge company and team values
Whether established company values or unspoken cultural values; when there is a sense of community, shared values are present. The important piece is to acknowledge company values and acknowledge employees that exemplify them.
Any company can create and establish a list of values, but if the values are not acknowledged and exemplified, they will not hold weight. A strong community makes values real. The values become tangible, something we can touch and feel. This allows us to experience our work life in much more meaningful way.
- Remember, your actions hold weight.
Managers at all levels should recognize the power they hold in creating a valuable work environment. In fact, researchers found that middle managers were especially important and valuable aspects in building community, not only because of their knowledge of the organization but their level of commitment to the company.
When there is a sense of community in the workplace, employees are engaged and have trust in the process.They believe in and exemplify company values and ultimately, have a strong commitment to the company’s goals.
While there are many ways to help drive community, focusing on authentic communication across colleagues and departments is a good place to start. All of us have the opportunity to model positive behavior in how we communicate and work with others. This action will cause a ripple effect and create a sense of community for those that we work and interface with.