In my last post, I wrote about the importance of infusing the workplace with a sense of community. As an employer, you need to decide what your role is in facilitating a community in which people can exchange ideas, collaborate on projects, vent, and talk about the world at large. Will this increase productivity and enhance the bottom line? Probably, but it will take time. Again, I asked Nathan Greeno president and CEO of Drawing Board Consulting Group and the author of the new book, "Corporate Learning Strategies," to comment on what it means to create community in the workplace. Here´s what he had to say:
"Most of us spend more time at work than in any other activity in our lives. Unfortunately, this experience provides less and less community and becomes a mechanical portion of our lives rather than a relational one. This alienation from a community at work does not stop there. It translates to the workplace itself in terms of less loyalty and commitment to the organization. This is, in one sense, both the great loss within organizations today in terms of human capital management and the great opportunity. Intentionally bridging that gap as an organization on behalf of employees means providing both physical space and context for connections. The more this is done, the greater the relationship development between people. Employees win by gaining additional "shape´ to their work lives by gaining a sense of community with which to experience, vent, share and be creative. Employers win by gaining loyalty and even reinvestment into the workplace from employees. It is a win/win created out of relationship. Individuals usually feel powerless to change a large organization, so the first move is on the organization. It begins with a question: Do you want a machine or a living organism? One will work well as long as nothing changes in its environment. The other will have sustainability and thrive even in the mist of chaos."
Greeno´s analysis makes sense to me, but it takes commitment and patience. When you open up lines of communications between employees you run the risk of people talking (or emailing) too much, in an inappropriate fashion, and/or not about the tasks at hand. So instead of simply tossing out this idea of creating community-"Hey, everybody, we´re going to be more community-oriented, so please talk among yourselves . . ." set some ground rules. Make a plan, document the plan, share the plan, and then stick to it. Instead of relying on staff meetings perhaps you can create another venue for facilitating community. Maybe you can pair up employees who are volunteering outside the office and ask them to touch base with each other over the course of a month and then have them report back to the rest of the staff about their experiences. Remember, volunteering in the community can accomplish a number of goals including raising awareness about your company and helping your people know that they (can) bring value to other parts of their lives as well as the lives of others.
Sometimes an impromptu event can facilitate a sense of community. Celebrating birthdays, jobs really, really well done, snagging a new client, and other achievements-large and small-are good excuses for pulling people closer together. But keep this in mind: your goal should not necessarily be to create friendships; staff should be able to do this without your intervention. Your mission is to foster an environment in which your workers can trust one another, rely on each other, and celebrate successes.