Power of community

First published in 2020

It takes a village to raise a child. The African proverb, which highlights the importance of the whole community in creating a safe and healthy environment has never felt more relevant. As we evolved to have increasingly larger brains, we had to increase the length of our childhood; as a consequence, early homo sapiens had to develop complex social structures to ensure that each tribe could effectively look after their young as well as gathering plenty of food for everyone.

As adults living in the 21st century, we still must navigate complex social structures and norms in order to be successful. One of the most important of these is inevitably our workplace. The leadership teams of organisations have a responsibility to create a positive culture within their communities: where individuals are able to be themselves, personal accomplishments are recognised and rewarded and there are appropriate support mechanisms in place to enable everyone to achieve their full potential. However, regardless of where you are in your career, I’m sure you can think of at least one example where this wasn’t exactly the case…

During my career I have had the advantage of working with a large number of organisations and, despite each having slight nuances in culture, there are three core categories which I believe the vast majority of organisations fall into, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. The Competitors
    • Usually found in organisations which are very sales-focused, everyone is assessed on the perception of their individual achievements with very little consideration given to how people interact with each other
    • On the plus slide, these orgnisations can be very agile, decisions can be made quickly, and roles and responsibilities are easily understood
    •  These organisations very rarely have comprehensive support structures in place for their employees. These leadership teams often have a very clear idea of what ‘good’ performance looks like, often modelled on themselves, with employees who don’t fit this stereotype being excluded from opportunities or failing to have their contribution appropriately recognised
  2. The Consensus
    • Often larger and more established organisations, these are organisations which always require agreement from all stakeholders before making even the smallest of decisions.
    • These organisations often put a lot of effort into their support functions, compliance with legislation and trying to ensure the ‘happiness’ of their employees,
    • Conversely, the inability to effectively make decisions can lead to poor behaviour being allowed to continue and a lack of recognition of entrepreneurial behaviour
  3. The Family
    • Mainly experienced in founder-led organisations, these are environments where loyalty rules and the work-life boundaries are often blurred.
    • Here job security is likely to be higher, with a much more informal working atmosphere
    • However dysfunctional behaviour often persists at the cost of effective decision making and ensuring newer employees feel included in the company culture

The first step in managing these challenges is recognise which category your organisation belongs to and understand some of the root causes of the behaviour of those around you. The second is to understand the environment in which you as an individual as most likely to thrive. If there is a mismatch between you and your existing workplace, it may be time to move on and look for new opportunities. This is where you can really leverage the power of community.

In What color is your parachuete?, Richard N. Bolles explains that 33% of all successful job offers arise from asking for job recommendations or referrals from within your various communities. This may not sound very significant, but when you compare it to the 4% success rate from applying directly through employers’ job postings online, you quickly realise the value of investing in your personal network. Aside from our employers, we are all members of a number of communities, such as: university alumni, industry bodies, previous workplaces, religious organisations, sports clubs and hobbies. Given the competition in the jobs market at the moment, it is vital that we leverage these communities as much as possible if we are to make a successful career move.

Here are some practical tips for increasing your network within your existing communities:

  • Make sure you are connected on LinkedIn with your previous colleagues and clients, and reach out if any are working for an organisation or industry you are particularly interested in
  • Attend virtual events organised by industry or professional bodies and share any interesting findings through social media or engage with presenters directly.
  • Join the various group forums available through social media, such as those organised by your University or professional body
  • Get involved with a dedicated charity focused on furthering the career interests of under-represented groups, such as Informal Network
  • Ask someone in an industry you are interested to spend some time talking about how they got into their role and what advice they might give you
  • Bring disparate groups of individuals with a shared interest together in a virtual (and fun!) way, such as fantasy football leagues or remote book clubs

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