Building Intentional Communities at Work

Community must be cultivated. For decades I have considered community an important value that has often influenced my decisions. Yet working from home for the past year has made me realize that community must be prioritized and actively nurtured by its participants. Contrary to popular belief, building community in one’s personal or professional life is not simply the result of shared interests, associations or environments.

Building community, especially in a work context, is particularly relevant as more organizations explore how to safely and willingly have their people return to shared workspaces.

As I participate in countless virtual meetings throughout the day I’m repeatedly finding myself in conversation where people are lamenting about burnout. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article discussed the impact of allostatic overload and how organizations can build greater resilience as more people feel the emotional and physiological burdens of a prolonged crisis.

Many organizations are seeking to alleviate the stress of their people to avoid burnout and attrition. Yet these plans are purely tactical without considering how to foster a genuine sense of community. Instead organizations must weigh how they are creating opportunities for diverse employees to cultivate authentic connections that extend beyond topics related to a specific industry, market or profession.

The pandemic has allowed people to divulge more of their whole selves to their colleagues, and fostered moments of vulnerability and empathy that have arguably strengthened employee relationships. As such, building community at work now must be more intentional than creating a shared space for people to collaborate and engage.

If organizations want to retain talent and evolve how they think about their people, it’s important to cultivate a greater sense of community by addressing the following 3 questions:

  1. What is the shared intention that brings our team together? More specifically, what is the underlying purpose that fuels our peoples’ motivation? It could be anything from a building a professional network to nurturing a desire to repeatedly learn and grow. Regardless of the motivation, identifying a shared purpose will help clarify the primary reasons people come together and what they have in common beyond a shared place of work.
  2. What are the rituals or practices that reflect that shared intention? Rituals create norms, and norms build a common set of behaviors for the group. Through established rituals, it is implied that the group agrees to prioritize the community and interact with each other based on shared expectations. The benefit of creating shared expectations builds clarity among the group and ensures that behaviors are reflective of the community’s underlying purpose.
  3. How does this community evolve?
    Members will come and go as time progresses. Therefore, it’s important to ask, “how does the community stay relevant to meet its members’ needs?” Communities should be reflective of the evolving needs of its members. Creating opportunities to gather ongoing feedback, make swift decisions and adapt to the emerging needs of it people is imperative to create sustainable engagement. By keeping its members engaged and autonomous, communities stay relevant through continuously representing the needs of its people.

The return to work is increasingly nebulous; however, cultivating intentional communities is essential to addressing employees’ emotional needs that will renew, inspire and engage people in a post-pandemic world.

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