Community is a word often associated with local, street-level type activities whereby people get together to organise a party or meet every quarter to discuss the neighbourhood watch objectives or form some kind of village hall committee to put on the annual summer fete. And at that level, the word is often looked down upon, derided slightly for its naive and do-gooding qualities. Think Women’s Institute, fairy cakes and tidying up the canal on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Well, I’m here to tell you, as if you needed telling, that community is what makes us human. Our communities come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as a community of two people who share a common purpose which they work tirelessly towards, or they can be formed of a massive world-changing movement which encompasses numerous cultures, countries, religions, belief systems, languages and political boundaries.
Facebook, whether you love it or hate it, is a community. Each person has their own little group of friends that they share their lives with, “my cat just ate my toast” etc and this helps people feel connected with the lives of others, even if they don’t know them that well.
Your street, your block of flats and your commuter train to work is a community. You have a common purpose of safe, clean living or safe, clean commuting to work. You might not discuss any of this with any of your fellow passengers or neighbours, but this is a universally understood rule of living or travelling in our world. Only when those unwritten rules are violated will people pluck up the courage to talk, unless you live outside of London, in which case you’ll actually know your neighbours and be on nodding terms with your regular fellow passengers.
Where we live is a key community in our lives, but where we work is often a largely overlooked and underrated community that actually forms a huge part of our everyday lives. When we accept a new job, we don’t usually consider the place that we will be working in, as a community and yet it is. People go there together to achieve a common purpose. They must talk to each other and work together to achieve common aims and they must get along well enough to be able to get things done with each other’s help.
Yet, when we start a new job, we only usually meet one, two or maybe three of the people we will be working with. We must trust that the others in the office community are similar to those we have already met and hopefully liked. If not, we are in trouble. Because we spend so much of our time at work, whether it be in an office, hospital, airport or wherever, it’s essential that we like the place that our working community is situated. If you don’t like the building you’re in, that’s a major part of your community life, that’s not going to be great for you at all.
How people behave in that community is all important too. If your workplace tolerates or even encourages unhelpful behaviours in its people, then you will be sucked into that way of behaving, otherwise you’re going to have a hard time fitting in. And, boy, do we like to fit in. We human beings like belonging to communities that reflect us, our values and our behaviours. Think of the City Fund Manager who realises that he’s happier digging potatoes on his allotment, he’s really not going to fit in well with the big, brash, macho culture that deals on potatoes as a commodity, but that has never actually dug a hole in the ground, placed one in it, covered it gently with soil and nurtured it to help it grow. Of course, the guy that loves his allotment may well try to squish himself to fit with the community he finds himself in, but that’s not going to work long-term.
So, my question to you, is “what sort of community do you work in?” Is it one that suits you and your idea of what a community should be like. Do people help each other out, are they committed to a common purpose and when the chips are down, is there support to help bring things back up.
If you’re a business leader, I’m wondering whether you’ve created the type of community that you can be proud of. Is it one that people would actively want to work in and for. Is it a community that people can be proud of telling people they work in an does the community share the good stuff that it does.
Perhaps considering our places of work as communities makes good business sense too. It’s a thought. It turns out that community is pretty serious stuff after all.
Rebecca Bonnington is a Leadership Coach, Corporate Trainer and Licensed Trainer of NLP who writes regularly for the3rdimagazine. Attend an Introduction to NLP Evening with her on the 10th April or 16th May in Edinburgh. Find out more at www.rebeccainspires.com