Previously published on Forbes
Is your organization and team operating like a dedicated community? In other words, watching out for one another, caring about what happens together, making sense out of events that happen together? Participating in a community means that people become good citizens. Citizenship means that each and every member is willing to contribute to forward movement and progress. Community members are clear about what they care about together. They are connected to the vision – the big idea.
I believe that everyone wants to belong to something important. We want to know that our efforts can be multiplied and made into something bigger and better than we could create on our own.
We live in an era unique in human history. For the first time, we have the technology to create a decent life for every human being on this planet. The major obstacle to achieving that goal is the inability of disparate groups to overcome the history of isolation, mistrust, competition, and powerlessness that prevents them from working on a human agenda.
– Juanita Brown, founder of World Café.
How do we overcome the barriers Brown refers to and begin working on creating community in our workplaces? Here’s how I think about community:
Community is a group, team, or organization where there is high trust, effective communication, equality, respect for differences, and high levels of cooperation. It’s not without conflict, but members of the community have the perseverance to see conflict through to a healthy outcome. The larger focus of the community is on a vision of the future that can be created together and the actions needed today to get to that future.
M. Scott Peck defines community as “a way of being together with both individual authenticity and interpersonal harmony so that people become able to function with a collective energy even greater than the sum of their individual energies.”
Community creates belonging. And belonging can motivate members to elevate their performance and dedication to what they care about most. Isolation, by contrast, creates hopelessness. We can’t impact the complexities we’re facing today alone.
We’re all experiencing the effects of population growth, technologies expanding at mind-boggling speeds, organizations in chaos, distrust in our political systems, racial tensions, and more. Powerlessness and apathy are taking their toll on morale, productivity and engagement. We can’t simply succumb to the circumstances. We have to take back control and personal responsibility for creating the futures we want. And we can do this by coming together with other individuals and tackling these complex agendas, one conversation at a time.
Top-down decision-making no longer works in creating sustainable change. Involvement at all levels of an organization is critical for innovation and sustainability. By participating in organizational and community decision-making and planning, people will regain power and energy for creating positive change.
Three Steps To Build Community at Work
When you’re a citizen of a community, you don’t wait for someone else to do things; you take responsibility for co-creation. And co-creation eliminates the leader’s burden of having to create for others. Every member is a part of all of it and therefore the end result is better. Citizens of community are committed and responsible for the outcomes they produce. Citizenship in a community means that you are willing to contribute to the progress and willing to figure out, with others, “What do we care about?”
As a leader, are you willing to co-create a community that is distinct from the past? Ask yourself, “What is the possible future we might co-create here?” You can challenge your people to focus on us and we, instead of me and mine. Ask them, “To what extent are you willing to be invested in the well-being of the whole team (or division or organization)?”
Here are three steps to creating community that will generate high involvement and participation—and all of the benefits that brings:
1. Gather together people who have expertise and a stake in the issue. This increases commitment, because people are more likely to be committed to something they have had a hand in. And in the gathering, be a good host rather than the hero of the day. You are not in charge of this. You aren’t solving it all for them. You are hosting the gathering. Be clear about this.
2. Encourage diverse perspectives. None of us is as smart as all of us. Invite people to share about how they see the world. Ask questions that require thoughtful responses. Then listen and learn.
3. Follow the energy of the community. See what emerges in the conversation. What really wants to be discussed and discovered? Have the conversations that matter to the people in the room.
I challenge you as a leader to begin learning more about what it is to co-create community. I believe this is the evolution of leadership going forward. Great leaders are community stewards who show up as their intimate, authentic selves. They ditch the old paradigms of leadership for something more fluid and inclusive.