Wednesday 18 February 2015

Four steps to community

As part of my role, I am expected to foster a sense of community within my organisation. This felt like a relatively abstract request, until I spent some time thinking about what makes a community. I see four key steps.

Have a place to meet

Community is created by people, so an obvious thing to do is gather people in one location. Depending on the type of community, this gathering may be physical or virtual.

Where the members of a community are co-located, it makes sense to physically be in the same place and exchange ideas in person. Organisations run team meetings and training sessions for different groupings of their staff. MeetUp groups run extra-curricular events that gather professionals of a single discipline who work in the same city.

Where the members of a community are spread nationally or internationally, there are a variety of software applications that can be used to create a virtual meeting place. Video conferencing is a norm in geographically distributed organisations. The weekend testing community use skype as a platform for testers from across the globe to participate in interactive testing challenges. There is an active community of software testers on Twitter.

Sometimes place begins serendipitously and then requires structure to be applied. A conversation with a stranger at a birthday party may be the genesis of a new community, which will then require an ongoing location.

Discover a shared view

Community is created by conversation. By talking to people we determine whether we share a set of principles, a purpose, or ideas. We discover a shared view.

In organisations, discovery of a shared view is often a facilitated activity. A team will have a leader by virtue of organisational structure. This person may have a degree of ownership in setting direction, then be tasked with bringing those around them on a journey. Training, workshops and presentations are the tools that these people can use to align people to a shared view.

Outside the workplace, discovery of a shared view is usually more organic. I have experienced connection with an individual that lead to an existing community of which I had no prior knowledge.

Establish a common dialect

One way for the uninitiated to distinguish a community is that the people within it have adopted a common set of terms. The dialect of community is important for its identity. Language is a tool we use to present a unified view of collective ideas.

For people within the community, words help to create a sense of belonging. There is comfort in being able to take shortcuts in our conversation with words that evoke a common response, factory school, or words that shortcut a known debate, testing vs. checking.

I prefer dialect that emerges colloquially, or through thinking and debate. This is the language that blooms from a seed - the useful terms will grow and the useless will wither and die. There is also a place for dialect that is enforced through organisational culture or memorising a glossary, which may be useful to disseminate information through a change of season.

Foster leadership

People join a community based on the ideas and vision presented by its most visible members. Individuals who are charismatic and communicate their ideas with passion will draw others towards them. People will want to be part of a community that includes these leaders.

People stay in a community based on the continued opportunities it presents for their personal development. Creating an environment where people can continue to learn new skills or create new connections will keep them engaged.

I think it is important to identify inclusive paths for progression within a professional community that make people feel they are in the “midst of a sphere of possibility”. Those who are in leadership roles should offer support to those who are looking to take a step forward, and encourage those who are capable but wary.

I believe that a healthy community has a popular mentoring initiative that gives people at all layers of community the ability to demonstrate and extend their abilities.

Is community really as simple as that? What would you add?


  1. Nice KC, as always.

    To answer your last 2 questions I'd really need to know what you mean by community...

    1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
    2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
    3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the):
    the business community; the community of scholars.
    4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage:
    the community of Western Europe.
    5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
    6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
    7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.:
    community of property.

    Note - The above is taken directly from an online dictionary (you know me... lazy ;). Number 3 seems to point towards the type of community you're referring to.

    Because I 'think' I know what you mean by community I'm pretty happy with your 4 steps from the post. But perhaps you could expand on what you mean by community specifically in relation to the points in your post. You appear to be talking about a couple of different, although very similar, communities.

    Also, if number 3 above is closely aligned with your meaning, perhaps some thoughts on this part... "perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists."


    1. What I mean by community is deliberately a little vague, as I want to ask for input on my work without directly talking about my work.

      I think when you talk about perception as distinct in some respect from larger society, I talk about discovery of shared view and establishing a common dialect. To me that is two ways in which distinction manifests.

  2. I think there are couple more:
    - it makes sense to people to be part of that community group. they clearly understand what they get from that and they value it;
    - people are motivated to contribute back.

    1. Thank you for your comment Nicholas. These are two useful points for me to consider further.