the community rider

March 16, 2018

Does your company feel like a community?

A community has an environment rich in safety, belonging, mattering. The people within it have a shared identity, shared beliefs, shared expectations of behavior. They have the desire, and consistently take the actions, to expand the capabilities of their own and those of the other community members. All these enable the community, what we call the tribe, to fulfill its core purpose, to navigate growth and change.

A community is resilient. A community has emotionally engaged participants that are ‘in it together’.

Why would you want one? If for no other reason, do it for the ROI. Tribes—companies built as communities—gain substantial benefits. I have worked with more than 1,000 companies, over the past thirty-plus years; here is the ROI I consistently see from tribes:

  • Individuals are 35% to 50% more productive
  • Leaders gain 5 to 15 hours per week due to more self-directed teams and individuals
  • Employee retention increases to more than 90%
  • Profit per employee increases around 22%
  • Revenues and profits increase up to 210 % or more annually

Here are two tools that will help you create, and expand, the experience of community in your organization. Communities are tested when change occurs. So let us start there.

tool #1: logical levels of change

According to anthropologist Gregory Bateson, humans experience change at certain levels.* At SmartTribes Institute (STI), we see these levels as concentric circles where change can occur outside in, inside out, or both simultaneously. Here is how they work:

When we are challenged by external change, many logical levels of change are affected. For example, leadership decided to relocate a team, overnight, to a new business market that spoke a foreign language. If that team were told they had to continue to grow the business and sustain its core mission, everyone might initially panic.

This external change of moving to a new business market would demand that they:

  • Adapt to a new environment, or adjust it to suit their needs. They would be breathing in new air, eating new food perhaps, and living in new quarters. They might have to adjust to working in a new office environment (such as high-rise accommodations), or living farther away from the office than they used to.
  • Behave differently. They might have to wake up at a different time, and use different modes of transportation to get to work.
  • Develop new capabilities. They may need to learn a new language, or learn how to work with a translator in order to effectively communicate with new customers and the new community.
  • Expand their beliefs to include their colleagues and customers in this new world as collaborative, receptive, and welcoming.
  • Expand their identity to include that they could work in this environment successfully.

All of these would support their core because they would not be making the change if it did not honor their mission or purpose (or the change would be short-lived!).

So what should a leader do to leverage these levels of change to foster community? Intentionally edit them all.

  • core: I find it is easiest to start here. When we create a potent mission or purpose and an aspirational vision, we know what it means to be in the tribe.
  • environment: When we create a compelling physical, mental, emotional environment that feels good to work in, our employees want to come together in it.
  • behavior: When we create clear values, we know how to behave to stay in the tribe, we know what is acceptable and what is not.
  • capabilities: When we create a culture where we are continuously learning and growing, we feel that the company is invested in our future. So we invest in its.
  • beliefs: When we believe that the company is a great place to work, that its products or services are important and helpful, that our colleagues care about us, we want to contribute to our work community.
  • identity: When we believe that we matter, we are valued at work, we are seen, we feel peaceful, powerful, joyful, and deeply loyal to our company.

Here is a before and after example of intentionally editing the ‘logical levels of change’ to create a community:

Company X had a culture of high disengagement and more problems you will see in the graphic below. We were brought in to find out what the problem was and then lead workshops and provide executive coaching to help the client get the ‘desired state’ they wanted.

Here is what we found when we started:

Here is what we did to heal the culture. First we ran an SBM Index to learn what everyone’s emotional experience was—what they felt about the company.

Next we created a cultural GAME (Growth Appreciation Measurement Engagement) Plan with the talent team to ensure all employees would re-engage.

In the multi-month process of healing the culture, we helped the client create a mission/purpose, vision, and set of values that were inspiring and ensured everyone felt that could buy in and be excited by them. We assembled a cross-functional team of five to draft these, then tested them with a larger diverse group representing approximately 20% of the workforce. We also provided executive coaching to help the key leaders become models of the tribe they wanted to create. And last, we ran a leadership development program for the mid-level leaders to ensure they too were models of the ‘desired state’. All the while we coached the talent team on implementing the ‘game’ Plan.

Fast forward nine months, and the culture was turning around… from a disenfranchised group of strangers, it was becoming a community, a tribe. Twelve months later and the ‘desired state’ was the reality with 70% of the company. Eighteen months later and mission accomplished!

tool #2: only recruit tribe members!

You will have a much easier time creating your community if you streamline your recruiting processes. Here are the top problems that will damage your ability to create a community:

  • Candidates are not being screened for alignment with company values
  • Candidates are not being asked enough self-revealing questions
  • Recruiters are not using rapport techniques to powerfully put candidates at ease—which would result in them revealing who they are

A job interview is a candidate’s ‘rock star moment’—they are showing you their best face, so it is up to the recruiter to ensure that it is an accurate face. Here are our clients’ favorite initial recruiting questions (these apply to all roles):

  • Which of our company values are most aligned with your personal values? Why?
  • Please tell me some times in your career when you have most powerfully embodied our values.
  • What are the five career accomplishments you are most proud of? Why?
  • What are five adjectives used to describe you by: colleagues, bosses, friends, yourself?

These questions will help you screen out the candidates who will not fit in with your culture, and thus will not foster community.

What is your ‘desired state’ for your company? What are you doing every day to create it?


* Key texts by Gregory Bateson are Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Paladin Books, 1973) and Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Bantam Books, 1980).