The emphasis on community invariably leans towards the town or village in which people live or the club to which they belong. There are acres of literature on the benefits of successful communities in these areas
But what about creating a community within a business to realise some of those benefits?
This paper explores some of the benefits and difficulties of doing so
4 Key Takeaways:
- Creating a real community within a business takes time.
- It challenges everyone – especially managers
- It can be risky but the benefits are substantial
About Paul Passemard:
I am an engineer by background and worked in the oil industry for 25 years before setting up a management consultancy that worked across the private sector, central UK government and local authorities
Contacting Paul Passemard:
You can contact Paul by email
By Paul Passemard
If you Google ‘businesses, communities’ and include whatever other qualifying words you care to insert, the search engine reveals an interesting and very one-sided set of websites and commentaries.
One result of the search shows a significant emphasis on exhorting businesses in the community to display social responsibility, to become involved with the community, to make charitable donations, to provide local jobs, to buy locally and how it is good for the business if employees volunteer to do work in the community.
With the same Google search there is significant other content in the same vein – covering how to build effective and vibrant communities in your local town or village. Some of these searches describe a number of the characteristics displayed by successful communities
- Shared vision
- Common values
- Maximising individuals’ strengths
- Balancing the needs of the leadership group
- Working as a team
- Mobilising others
- Pitching in – participating
- Taking responsibility – being accountable to the community
- Looking ahead
- Recruiting and mentoring new leaders
- Walking beside and not leading from above
Does this sound familiar? The words may not be in strict management speak but doesn’t it sound almost exactly like the characteristics you would want to see in your business? The way you would want you and your employees to behave and work?
So, the question is – is your business a community and if not why not? Is your business missing out on the most beneficial aspects of community by not being one?
Let’s re-introduce some more familiar management language and examine some of these characteristics in more detail.
Perhaps the single most important element in a real business community is a commitment by its members to a shared vision of the future. There must be a consensus on the answer to the question, what does the community (business) want to be when it grows up?
The failure to reach agreement on the group’s mission has led to the demise of many a would-be community. If management’s vision of the future is grounded entirely on profits, stock options, executive bonuses, and special privileges, then community is impossible to achieve with a group of employees in search of job security, higher wages, and increased fringe benefits.
Shared common values are another important characteristic of a business community. In workplace communities’ employees and managers alike view themselves as parts of an integrated whole pursuing, a common mission which is consistent with their own personal values. If there is nothing more to the business or the organisation than each individual looking out only for his or her self-interest, then community will never be.
Cooperation, trust, and human empathy are among some of the shared values, which are vital to the formation and survival of communities.
In every community there is an ongoing tension between the group’s need for exclusivity on the one hand and the desire for inclusiveness on the other hand. To manage this, it is important for the community to have boundaries. A workplace without boundaries will not remain a community very long.
Associated with participation in a business community or team should be responsibility, sharing and well-defined performance expectations. Teams working within a community also require limits and boundaries.
Perhaps the most troublesome and difficult attribute of a workplace community is empowerment — the creation of a system of governance and a community decision-making process, which empowers all community members;
Unfortunately, many corporate managers are into having — owning, manipulating, and controlling money, power, people, and things. They need to be in control, and often display behavioural patterns, which are aggressive, competitive, and antagonistic. Those in the having mode are afraid of losing what they have to someone else.
Power sharing may be very threatening to corporate managers. For an organisation to have the possibility of becoming a true community, its leaders must be prepared to risk some loss of control. This is a higher price than most corporate executives are prepared to pay. This also gets to the crux of why there are very few real workplace communities.
Some company senior executives naively believe that community can be mandated. Community cannot be ordered from above. Top-down community-building initiatives are perceived by employees as deceptive attempts by management to manipulate them.
Education. Recruiting and Mentoring New Leaders
Despite the many virtues of community, life in a workplace community is not without its issues There is often a low tolerance for nonconformity and opinions, which differ from the community norm. Invasion of privacy and nosiness are not uncommon. Rarely are envy, greed, and competitiveness absent from such workplace groups.
For all of these reasons, it is important for the community to have an effective education and training programme to teach members community values, decision-making, governance, responsibility, growth and development, power sharing, and tension reduction.
Is it worth it?
From all of the above it is clear that there are no shortcuts to community in the workplace. We may say we want community, but do we want to risk the time and energy that community requires? Are we prepared to pay the price in terms of loss of our cherished individualism necessary to sustain community?
Under the most ideal circumstances, community building in the workplace is a slow and tedious process. The risk of failure is substantial. But the possible benefits include improved morale, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and more meaningful lives for all concerned.