Community is one of those soft, fuzzy words that in a business context many people do not understand and even find alienating.
At one level, a community can be defined like this:
A community is a group of people who share something in common.
A community could be where you live (your local community); a religion (Christian community); a culture (British community); a place (London community); a profession ( the scientific community) or more broadly – the international community, business community or financial community.
Community and culture are often confused. They are not the same.
Organizational culture is the attitudes, customs, rituals, values and beliefs shared by the members of an organization that govern their behavior.
Every organization has a culture, good or bad, no matter what. But it is not necessarily a community in its fullest sense.
In business, we talk about communities of practice and communities of interest – self-organized networks of people with a common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources.
We also talk about virtual communities that consist of participants in online discussion forums such as LinkedIn groups discussing topics of mutual concern.
But a company or organization can also be thought of as a community. People who work for the same organization have the organization and the success of that organization in common. If you work for IBM for example, you are part of the IBM community.
But there is another level to community – just because people have things in common does not mean that they are a community in a deeper sense. Community has a second dimension.
People in a community care about each other and take an active social role in building and maintaining the community to which they belong.
- They share a common purpose
- They have many values in common
- They care about their colleagues and respect them
- They are passionate about their work
- They are loyal to one another and the community as a whole
- They build healthy relationships
We also talk about being in community and having a sense of community or community spirit. This is what it means to be in a genuine organizational community – a feeling of belonging, of togetherness.
You can be a member of a community in that you share some things in common but fail to be in community because you just do not care.
So revising my earlier definition:
A community is a group of people who share things in common that they care deeply about and who care about each other.
Henry Mintzberg, the well-known author on business and management and Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in an article in Harvard Business Review: Rebuilding Companies as Communities, makes the point that:
An enterprise is a community of human beings, not a collection of “human resources”
Credit: Henry Mintzberg
We are not cogs in an organizational machine but human beings – social animals – living and working in a social world.
It is an insightful point and a mindset that has tremendous potential for changing the nature of the world of work.
How can you recognize communityship?
That’s easy. You have found it when you walk into an organization and are struck by the energy in the place, the personal commitment of the people and their collective engagement in what they are doing.
These people don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged.
The organization respects them so they respect it.
They don’t live in mortal fear of being fired en mass because some “leader” hasn’t made his or her numbers.
Imagine an economy made up of such organizations.
Credit: Henry Mintzberg
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