Especially in times of change, people search for security. One of the ways in which people can achieve this is through creating connections. Connections can give a sense of belonging. A sense of direction or purpose. It is no surprise that especially in unprecedented times like these, there is a flourishing of communities in and outside of organizations.
Communities are defined by membership and ownership
Researchers explain community as a social system of belonging. Peter Block (2018), author of the book Community: The Structure of Belonging, links community to two elements: ‘membership’ and ‘ownership’.
On the one hand, ‘membership’ is the feeling of being part of a group of people. Sharing commonalities with others, such as culture, interest or value. “Community is about the experience of belonging. We’re in community each time we find a place where we belong”, writes Block. In other words, community is the glue that binds people together.
On the other hand, ‘ownership’ refers to feeling responsible for (co)constructing the community. Making the interpersonal connection last beyond the now. In Block’ words, “community…[also] calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner and creator of this place.” A community, in other words, thrives when people feel they do not only belong to it but also want to keep it alive.
The potential of communities for organizations
There is plenty of research that points to the benefits of workplace communities. It can help organizations build a more committed and productive workforce. For example, animation studio Pixar shows that developing a strong community within the organization stimulates collaboration and this, in turn, can enhance creative success .
In recent years, there is also a growing awareness about the benefits of developing a community outside the walls of the organization. In complex work environments professionals can form communities to keep up with the different flows of information, experiences and solutions. A great example can be found in the healthcare industry. Here professionals gather in a community in order to ensure a better patient journey and information sharing across different care providers. There are various communities emerging around for example diabetes care, where patients constantly navigate between general practitioner, endocrinologist, diabetes nurse, pharmacist and optionally also dietists and more.
Also, a community can help organizations to acquire new knowledge and kick start innovation. Acquiring new knowledge can help to challenge own taken-for-granted assumptions and trigger new ways of working. Researchers for example showed that joining different kinds of community conversations helps design and consulting firm IDEO to transfer knowledge from one industry into another industry. This process of ‘recontextualization’ helps them to develop innovative products and technologies.
Besides allowing people to acquire and share knowledge more easily, another argument that underlines the value of communities is that it can help organizations to take stance. It can help organizational members to share their own perspectives and spread their world views. For example, social innovation hub Waag Society organizes a community around their own organization in order to spread awareness about digital technologies as instruments of social change.
Finally, and most evidently, a community can help to enlarge connections. Creating such a network around the organization can help to kick-start new collaborations. Related to this, developing a community also allows an organization to start a movement. To make impact and change the future. An illustration of this is the Urgenda, a foundation that brings together different researchers, journalists and other professionals to put social issues – such as climate change and sustainability – higher on the agenda of the Dutch government. In this vein, they organized the 2014 People’s Climate March in Amsterdam in which more than half a million people participated.
Re:imagine Strategy Community
Our own organization, Strategiemakers, has been founded during the crisis of 2012 with the aim to renew the conventional approach to strategy making in organizations. Again, as a society, we are in the midst of a crisis. The crisis makes clear that it is important to transform the way we strategize. The core of organizations needs to become more sustainable. Organizations, who are willing to put people, ecosystems, and imagination at the heart of their strategy.
Recognizing the potential of communities and considering connections crucial to our work and position, we believe that it is time to develop a community ourselves. Therefore, we started Re:imagine Strategy. A community of strategy enthusiasts who see the need to reimagine strategy making, as part of their current role or as part of their passion for change. This community is much organized like a ‘community of practice’, a group of people that shares a similar commitment, passion and expertise. A community in which all participants are active contributors and willing to take initiative.
The aim of this community is to re-imagine what strategy making in the future could look like. Questions that guide this community include, but are not exclusive to:
- how might we develop non-linear and thriving strategies in this quickly changing world?
- how might we include sustainability systematically into strategy making?
- how might we kick start a purpose-driven movement inside and across our organization?
We are at the start of developing the community. We strive to create a sense of membership by organizing interactive sessions in which members gather to talk about sustainable strategy making. These sessions differ from inspirational talks to co-creation sessions. A sense of ownership, in turn, will be stimulated by developing a safe space to speak up and listen. A space in which openness and sharing is a key value. We therefore invite people on personal title, not on their company name. With this we hope to bring in the experience of past jobs, hobbies, sports clubs, neighborhood initiatives just as equally as practical cases from more formal organizational roles.
With Re:imagine Strategy we hope to actively co-create contribute to alternative forms of strategy making. A new form that can make organizations resilient, flexible to change and moreover contributing to a sustainable future. Let’s change the future of strategy together through the power of community!