How to Build Community at Your Company

As human beings, we have a natural need to belong. Independence is great, but ultimately, we all need a group of people we can rely on. At the same time, we want others to feel confident depending on us. Communities have been the catalyst for these reciprocal feelings of value and support for centuries. As Henry Mintzberg pointed out in the Harvard Business Review, community is “the social glue that binds us together for the greater good.” It's no surprise, therefore, that employers have a lot of benefits to gain from creating a sense of community in the workplace. Here are some tips for building community in your company and getting the most you can from the process.

build a community

Engage in Community-Building Exercises

There are a ton of games, activities, and contests you can employ to instill a sense of mutual dependence and shared value among your staff members. These include fun team-building exercises like scavenger hunts, problem-solving scenarios, and brainstorming activities. But they can also entail more long-term endeavors such as working with a charity the group feels is important, or holding monthly forums in which the employees get together, chow down on pizza, and really get to know each other. The goal is not to distract people from their work, but rather to create a positive organizational culture that fosters top-level productivity.

Ensure that Everyone Feels Welcome and Valued

Some employees are more social than others. Almost every office has at least one individual who doesn’t seem to mesh well with the group. This person may appear to resist participating or contributing to group activities, but this appearance might not be an accurate representation of how they actually feel. They could be shy, awkward, or introverted, or they could be waiting to be asked directly. So go ahead and take the initiative to make every individual feel included. This is not junior high. As adults, we should have matured past the need for cliques (and if we haven’t, now is probably a good time to start). 

A community needs to have the support of all of its members, not just a chosen few. Just ask Pixar President Ed Catmull, who attributes his company’s success to a “vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places.” The ability to attract top talent is just one more benefit of effective community-building at your company.

Allow the Community to Evolve

People come and go. But communities can remain strong if they're willing to bend with the changes rather than try to resist them. Workplace communities generally have a shared set of values that align with the organizational goals. But this does not mean they have to be inflexible. When a new manager comes in and tries to shake things up, a weak community might fall apart. But a resilient group that has a strong sense of purpose will come together and help each other through the changes that are inevitably going to occur in any organization.

Have an Excellent Conflict-Resolution Strategy in Place 

No matter how well a group of people may get along, conflicts are bound to occur. While it's not your job to play counselor or babysitter, resolving conflicts will most certainly enter into your list of responsibilities. If conflicts are allowed to fester, they can destroy the atmosphere of solidarity and support you've worked so hard to build. They can pit employees against one another, or even against you. If you want to maintain a strong sense of community in your organization, you have to know how to intervene in disputes without seeming overbearing. If you're not familiar with the most effective conflict resolution strategies, read up a bit on The Thomas-Kilmann model or Rahim's meta-model.  Knowing how to manage conflict will be an integral part of your endeavors, so don’t underestimate its significance. 

If you think community building should only occur in neighborhoods, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for your company to increase morale, loyalty, production, and ultimately, profits. When your workers have synergy, they are going to excel. People are social creatures by nature. And trying to fight against that, thinking you’ll squeeze a few extra minutes of work out of them, is a misguided approach to enhancing productivity. People need to feel valued—they need to feel that they belong to something bigger and more extraordinary than themselves. Building an environment of trust, encouragement, and support can help fulfill those needs and create a win-win situation all around.

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