How to transform teams into strong communities

When we come to work, most of us are part of a team, whether that’s HR or finance or software delivery. We are part of a workplace ecosystem of individuals with a shared characteristic. 

Teams are great, but communities are even better than teams. As a human, I want to feel that I am part of something that’s bigger than me, that I can express myself and have a sense of belonging.

When someone is a member of a community, and feels a sense of empathy and belonging, we are more effective. The rate of learning increases exponentially because people feel safe and supported in a community. 

As a delivery lead, how can we help to build a community in our teams? The answer is definitely not having after-work drinks and bean bags, or simply telling people that they are valued and supported.  Here are some ideas to help build a strong community in the workplace. 

Remember that fun and safe are results, not inputs 

We want to build communities where people are open and communicating and bringing their best at all times. We want people to feel safe and to have a fun environment. 

But I can’t just sprinkle a bag of ‘safe’ over my team. We have to make an environment that is fail-friendly, where we focus on learning first, and take a positive approach to failure. That means not blaming the individual but instead asking, “What can we learn to do better?” 

Similarly, we can’t just tell people to have fun. We need to create stimulating conditions that encourage people to work in new ways and reward them for doing so. 

Establish community guidelines 

Building strong communities needs a clear set of guidelines. It’s about having a clear idea of what the community’s reason for existing is, that established members of the community can check, and update if needed. Guidelines are also important for new team members.

Building strong communities needs establishment of community guidelines. Establishing community standards means the community can reference those elements to stay on the right path. It’s also important to help new community members become involved because they know who to talk to. 

Make a concerted effort to invest time 

Investing is especially important for new people, so they understand the community and have empathy for the existing challenges and history of that community. Those people who are already established in the community must invest time in the new person and the community. 

Additionally, it’s important not just to invest in the community – but work on the community. As a community leader and member, look from an outside perspective and ask, “What could we be doing better?” 

Building communities based on empathy and integration

This is probably the single more important thing that differentiates a normal team from a community. It’s a cultural, habitual thing. We have empathy for people who are new, or make mistakes, or have problems. 

Traditionally organisations are not great at building empathy in workplace teams. But empathy is incredibly important if you want to build a strong community. 

When a person joins your community, there’s a level of vulnerability involved in that process. The new member needs to talk about their skills and experience, and weaknesses. The community needs to be empathetic to that person. In turn, the new person must be empathetic to the community – it’s important not to walk into a community and criticise it, for example. 

A community that has empathy allows people to be honest and open about their passions, their needs and their problems. Today, many people suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, headaches. As knowledge workers, particularly, we work long hours and put a lot of pressure on ourselves. 

Having a community where I can be open and honest helps me to manage my conditions. It builds trust and safety. That’s a precious asset that should be treated as though it’s made of glass: drop it, and it’s broken, and it’s gone. 

6 quick ways to build community 

  1. As an individual, be open about your needs, even if it’s just to one person. Talking to a colleague and being vulnerable is scary, but it helps to build a community of empathy.
  2. Try to be approachable and accommodating.  Be ready for empathetic conversions and offer support or onward help, if needed. 
  3. When failure occurs, be positive about the situation. Treat it as an opportunity to improve. 
  4. Invest time in building relationships. Spend time with people chatting and learning together. Send weird Slack messages, have coffee, building relationships doesn’t take long. 
  5. Help to define the interests and reasons why your community exists. Allow everyone to have input and views on what the purpose of your community is, but ensure you have a good foundation that gives people something to refer to. 
  6. Be the person you needed when you were the new person in the community! There are so many situations where you can make the world of difference and uplift someone who joins your community.

If you’re part of a team you’ll know that building more community within that team always leads to better results. Catch up on my full talk on this topic here: