What 2 decades have taught me about building thriving organisations and communities (plus practical tips to try)
“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water and food.”
― Dean Ornish
Creating a thriving community, organisation or collective is a challenging endeavour. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I can categorically say, it is possible.
I know this because I’ve successfully done it throughout my career, over and over again. Whether it’s spending years building a prosperous community in Aboriginal townships or helping dozens of organisations to foster extraordinary cultures, one thing remains the same…the 4 ancient age-old principles of community that underpin my approach to community transformation. These pillars are not things you do, rather they’re a ‘way of being’.
So, what are these principles and how can you harness their power to transform the communities you lead?
In this article I reveal 4 essential pillars that inspire a community ethos and awaken unparalleled potential. I also provide my top tips for how these pillars can be practically applied to your organisation or community-building venture.
Pillar #1: Belonging
Community transformation begins with nurturing belonging. This is often achieved by seeking individual connection, encouraging co-creation and establishing community ownership. Without this ethos, even the best intended policies and initiatives will feel like enforced interventions to others. However, by fostering personal accountability, people are driven to uphold the tenets of community and are invested in its short-term and long-term success.
Here’s an effective strategy to instil belonging in your community or organisation:
- Co-create a vision, purpose and goals as a group. Here are some questions to ponder as a collective. Who am l? What do I stand for? Why do we exist? What are we here to create together? Why is this important? How can we elevate humanity? What do we value above all else?
Ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to these strategic foundations and invite ongoing participation throughout the development process.
Top tip: I encourage drawing your vision on paper. When I worked with the Aboriginal community of Napranum, they drew a new township in great detail. This drawing became the inspiration and heart of what they wanted to achieve as a community – a collective roadmap to success!
Pillar #2: Connectedness
When creating a community, a key message to instill in individuals is ‘my success is your success’. This symbolises that there is no them and us, but that we are all connected. By helping people to understand that we’re in this together, the welfare of the community becomes the top priority.
So, how can we encourage greater connectedness in community settings? Here’s a few strategies to try.
- Share personal stories and dare to be vulnerable. By understanding another person’s story, such as their hobbies, hardships or aspirations, a bond is created that heightens feelings of belonging and empathy. This is key to creating a cohesive, inclusive community that values and respects its participants. This can be achieved by instituting ‘gratitude days’ or ‘storytelling/yarning sessions’ where everyone shares something that they’re grateful for or disclose a personal story. Co-workers can then ask follow-up questions to deepen their connection and personal intimacy.
- Create an anchor or common language across the community. From a set of strong values that everyone lives by to an engaging name for people within the community (for example, people who work at Google are called ‘Googlers’ and workers at Amazon are called ‘Amazonians’) an anchor helps people to feel deeply connected to their community and part of its ethos.
Pillar #3: From Problem to Possibility
For communities to flourish, it’s critical to focus on the untapped potential and possibilities that could be created, instead of the problems, deficiencies and needs that may exist.
When we build communities from a place of possibility, when we focus on what we are hopeful for, when we’re motivated by our aspirations, and when we co-create with strength-based thinking, communities unite as one, and anything is possible.
Here’s how you can help community participants to focus on possibility and group potential:
- Group brainstorming sessions that are focussed on innovation, opportunity and creativity. Tap into the wisdom of the group by asking participants to think and dream big, to dismiss old thought-patterns, and to bring anything and everything to the table. By dismissing old, antiquated ideas, you can help community members to shift their thinking from fear (problem) to abundance (possibility). This shift enables people to break-free from norms that no longer serve them, and create new community models that inspire, motivate and engage.
Pillar #4: Caring for The Whole
When egos are left at the door and when individual agendas fall away, the ability to co-create together is unleashed.
Here’s how you can create an ethos of togetherness and community unity:
- Ensure people matter and have a sense of agency. The act of being seen, heard, recognised, respected and even rewarded is extremely powerful. By giving people a voice to influence the status quo, magic happens. This sense of agency breeds feelings of belonging, loyalty and engagement in individuals, whilst bonding them to the community and its short and long-term aspirations.
- Take advantage of the 30% tipping point. When over 30% of your organisation or community are onboard, change becomes self-sustaining. This can be done by maintaining an ongoing buzz and dialogue about community activities and successes.
Note: The tipping point becomes less effective if it drags on over a period of time, so aim to create an ongoing engagement strategy that keeps the community and its purpose front-of-mind.
When used in tandem, these pillars provide a robust foundation for community transformation to thrive, and for individual and group potential to be realised. I wish you every success with your community-building ventures.
Need help to put these pillars into practice? Learn more today.