Community is one of those soft, fuzzy words that many people do not fully understand and even find alienating. It is a word that gets used loosely, its meaning confused and distorted. So, what is meant by 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.
These are all communities, but they are not necessarily communities in the full sense of the word.
So what is a community?
At a basic level, a community can be defined like this:
A community is a group of people who share something in common.
The full concept of community, however, has several dimensions of meaning. Each dimension needs to be in place for a community to be considered what I would call a real community.
A real community is a group of people who:
- Share something in common
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.
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.
- Care about what they have in common
Just because a person shares something in common with someone else does not mean they care about it. To be part of a real community, you need to care about what it is you have in common.
- Care about each other
To be in a real community, not only do you need to care about the community, you need to care about and respect each other. You need to be loyal to one another and build healthy relationships.
Not many communities genuinely have this characteristic.
The London coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th centuries were small communities, but I doubt whether the people who frequented them cared that much for each other.
In business, a community of practice meets the interaction criteria, but people don’t necessarily care for each other
A social club might be an excellent example, however of a community that does care.
- Interact regularly
You can share something in common that you care about, and you can care about each other, but if you don’t frequently interact with each other you are not in a real community.
The scientific community or a local community are examples where not everybody in those communities interacts.
- Are passionate about a common purpose
To be in a real community, you need to be doing something together that is worth doing and makes belonging to that community matter. You need to be passionate about the purpose. (The community needs to have a purpose.)
- Have shared core values
Although not everyone’s values will be the same, it helps if many of the communities core values are shared.
- Care about the community as a whole
Although someone may be part of say a local community in that they live in a particular locale, if they do care about that community or do not interact in any way with their neighbors, they cannot really be said to be part of that community.
You need to take an active social role in building and sustaining the community to which you belong.
Being in Community
Community is much more than belonging to something.
It’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.
Credut: Brian Solis
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 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.
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.
So revising my earlier definition:
A community is a group of people who share things in common, who work together towards a common purpose that they care about and who care deeply about each other.
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