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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sense of Community

Don't just put up a workplace, build a community.

I believe there's profit to be had in building good relationship among employees. Before I wrote that last sentence, I thought about putting working between good and relationship, but that would limit it to work-related engagements. The kind of relationship that I believe should be built goes beyond the bounds of work.

The kind of workplace I have in mind have people sharing more than environment, they also share intents, beliefs, resources, preferences, needs and other things that define the organization's identity. It's a community of people who look forward to working with each other, trust and respect each other and care about each other. Touchy, feely you might say, too mushy even, but this touchy- feely sometimes mushy subject of relationship building is I think exactly what's needed to build a strong team and we all know what a strong team can do. I have a few suggestions on how to do this.

Establish a social network within the organization. Have your Intranet setup so that people can share more than their basic demographics. Make it look and feel like the popular online social networks. If your company do not have the budget for an intranet but is not too security conscious, you can use free social networking tools like ning.com. You can also use your company newsletter to feature new and old employees or have them exchange personal notes with each other through the said newsletter. Is this not going to ruin productivity? I'd say yes, if performance management system is not properly in place. So, before you setup something like this, make sure you've set the performance parameters clearly and that you have a means to check and rectify performance slacks.

Hold company social events as often as you can afford. Company outing, Sports fests, Christmas parties, Cook-outs, picnics, eat-outs, etc. Find every excuse to extend the relationship outside the formal grinds of work. Have employees discover that they are working with similarly good and fun loving people. One client of mine set up a social committee composed of employees from various brackets and have them cook up creative and hopefully inexpensive ways to have employees get together outside of work. I think the important thing in setting something like this up is making sure that the goals are clear and that the activities promote the agenda, and the agenda is to build cohesiveness.

Establish norms for open communication. Prevent people from jumping to conclusion, blaming and making accusations by discussing and agreeing on ways to air grievances, share ideas, opinions and feelings. Set up a safe environment for people validate or correct their assumptions. Create a venue for addressing interpersonal conflicts when parties can't fix it among themselves.

Make it possible for people to help each other. Setup tools, venues or fora for collaboration. Encourage employees to post questions or shout out for help just like what's going on in other online social fora. I personally believe that people are akin to help if they know they can.

The bottom line is, when people are familiar with each other, trust and respect each other, help each other and look forward to working with each other, you build a sense of community that builds teamwork and energizes people to face the challenges of work together. It's worth the investment and the effort I tell you.

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