How To Engage Colleagues To Build Community in the Workplace
HR Expert (& Huge Geek)
1 Feb 2024
Cat DiStasio explores how people leaders can engage executive teams, managers, and your entire workforce to build a sense of community in the workplace.
Over the past few years, work culture has been a popular topic in news headlines and social media memes. But ‘culture’ has become a bit of a vague term as a result, and it’s easy to lose sight of what we really want when we want a better culture. The key for many organizations is proactively working to build a sense of community – that is, cultivating an environment with effective communication, high levels of trust and comfort, good cooperation and a common purpose.
The myth of community in the workplace is that it is somehow the HR department’s job to manage, build, and correct everything related to work culture. That’s a pretty outdated mindset and the reality is that most people now understand that community and culture are not programs that HR runs – they are a reflection of the cumulative attitudes, behaviors, and values of the entire workforce.
That said, HR teams are often the ones who raise a flag when organizational culture is lacking – because they see signs and trends across the organization that others may not have visibility into, such as increased absenteeism and higher turnover. HR teams can’t swoop in and fix it on their own but people leaders who want to influence positive change and build community can do so by engaging with key stakeholders in other parts of the organization.
Because everyone in a company plays a part in building community, it can be helpful to think about engaging folks at different levels of leadership. In this article, we’ll explore how people leaders can engage the following groups of folks to actively build community:
- Executive leadership
- Department and team managers
- The entire workforce
1. Executive leaders can drive community
The idea that everyone who works at a company contributes to community and culture may make it sound like community is a bottom-up mechanism. But in many ways, the opposite is true. The attitudes and behaviors of top leadership can make or break community-building efforts in an organization. When executives lead by example and demonstrate organizational values through their actions, other employees may be more likely to act accordingly. Being accountable for one’s behavior – and holding others accountable – can be an effective way for top leaders to foster community.
Executive leaders can also contribute to community building by setting and communicating clear goals and expectations. This doesn’t mean making a sweeping declaration that employees are “family.” In fact, it may be more effective to commit to an atmosphere of respect and trust, rather than imply the sort of unconditional obligation that many people associate with familial relationships.
2. Department and team managers impact daily experiences
Managers and leaders of business units, departments, and other types of teams are another key subgroup of people who need to be engaged to influence positive changes in a workplace community. Many of the same behaviors we need to see from executives also apply to this group of leaders, but there are other ways they can contribute.
Department and team managers can help build community on more of a one-to-one or one-to-several level. Because they tend to interact regularly with more people, these leaders can shape the daily work experience of everyone on their team. In these closer relationships, leaders are well-positioned to coach team members on behaviors that align with organizational values, recognize and reward people who embody those values, and quickly address situations that could get in the way of a strong sense of community.
3. All employees contribute to organizational culture
If executive leadership and department/team managers are working cohesively to build a sense of community in the workplace, their actions and mindsets generally influence the way other employees behave and feel. This happens many different ways – from hiring new people who share similar values to cultivating desired behaviors in current employees. It also requires leaders to address problems by holding people accountable for their actions, whether that means investing in further training and mentoring, or separating from employees who are committed to toxic behaviors.
Building community at all levels
Building a strong, sustainable sense of community begins with understanding what that means in your organization. Engaging top leaders to identify community values and set goals is an important early step in the process of building community. Supporting and training mid-level leaders to help influence positive culture changes across their teams is another key factor in successfully building a sense of community in any organization. Ultimately, every person who works at a company contributes to work culture, and it’s up to leaders to ensure that those influences are more positive than negative.