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The Intentional Organisation - Issue #10 - Building Communities
1. Human Resources as Community Builders
This Wednesday I took part in an online webinar by the title PEOPLE & BUSINESS EXPERIENCE™ - The Future of HR, organised by Consulting House International, moderated by Nicole Eifler and in the company of Ricardo J. Vargas. We have discussed the challenges in companies in this new uncertain world, the opportunities that emerge for companies and the role of #HR in this transformation.
It was an exciting discussion, with many questions received from the audience, particularly on elements such as Employee Experience in the current pandemic scenario. Ricardo spoke about the role of Leadership in managing uncertainty, the discovery process that this moment has caused many of us from the known to the unknown. He also mentioned an important aspect I had n to reflected on: remote work has impacted our perception of space, by removing us from our typical workplace. But in this transition of physical space, we have also altered our psychological space: another element that leadership needs to comprehend. A third element he mentioned is the importance to think in terms of community as we are trying to keep our social ties intact in this challenging moment. It was an aha moment for me.
A vital role for HR in the coming months, as we head into a new period of lockdown, is to become a real Community Builder.
I'm not referring to the launch of (yet) another internal social media platform. But instead on focusing on strengthening the ties that keep us together, and, in the context of an organisation, make our work worth. If culture can be defined as the way we do things, a community is whom we do those things with.
Communities have annoyed many sociologists who tried to define them. Compared to organisations, they very often lack many formal elements. Yet, they are a crucial element in the way we act like human beings.
There are a few elements, however, that communities need to have:
Access: the members must be able to access the community.
Communication: the members must be able to communicate with each other.
Presence: the members must have some relationship with the other members (see themselves, and are seen, as a part of the community).
Participation: the members must have some involvement within the community.
A community cannot be imposed from the top: it's instead something that forms autonomously by the spirit of a few members. With our organisation design activities, we often make it difficult for communities to develop, by imposing artificial boundaries to human contact. However, as Organisation Network Analysis has shown, there are many different ways communities get creates in organisations, which is also why the concept of Communities of Practices got such an important focus in the past years.
Why is it needed now?
Lockdown has hit hard on one of the most critical aspects of human life: our relationships. Yet, some connections are much more reliable and also endure the distance. Ricardo correctly pointed out that family ties don't dissolve easily simply because we keep distant for some time. Would you say that same happens for your organisation?
I keep reading of entrepreneurs and managers that want to return to office soon. The main argument they mention is the loss of cohesion and the culture dilution that they are suffering. I argue that in many cases, is simply the loss of control. But now I realise there is much more: we are paying the toll of not having been able to build healthy communities in our organisations.
Our focus has always been on the hierarchy, the department, the office. When things became complex, we started using concepts such as the dual ladder, matrix organisations, and we started applying dual belonging principles, between strong and dotted lines. Yet, the moment that all people went home condemned to work from a distance due to the lockdown, we realised that we had not built stable enough communities that could face this new reality.
In my research for the Meaning of Work, I've discovered that yes, many people are motivated for passion and desire to achieve. Many people, however, go to work for the relationship they have been able to build. A myopic performance-focused view would list these people as "not engaged", but it's not true. It's probably a significant component of the workforce in most organisations. Which, under normal conditions, performs towards what they are asked to deliver. And which usually creates healthy core communities within your organisations.
Some are very visible. The smoking circle that meets in the dedicated smoking area every morning at the same time. The soccer team that every Wednesday meets to organise the next match. The group of newbies that onboarded the same day, and keeps having lunch together once a month. The group of executive assistants that knows everything about the organisation (and beyond). The group of nerds that is always there to support the consistently understaffed IT Helpdesk, whenever there are technical issues. I'm sure you can name more of these.
Well, I'm sure that most of these teams survived during the first lockdown. Zoom Happy hours helped keep ties. But is it sufficient?
What can HR Role Be?
One of the most challenging process during lockdown has been onboarding. I kept reading it over and over: new colleagues that joined but have never seen the office. Yes, they received their welcome pack, yes they got their equipment, yes they got their 125 meet&greet zoom calls dropped in their calendar on day one. But where's the opportunity for them to be part of a community?
Remember what I wrote before? This community spirit is essential to help build culture identification. Yes, your team and your professional family are good proxies for this... but they will often be too big or too stiff to fill-in your emotional batteries.
We need, as HR, to think this through, and enable and guide community-building efforts across our organisation because these will be essential in the periods when we will need to find new normalities.
It's a way to help people find back their space in terms of both physical and psychological placement within a network of a positive relationship. That ultimately will help support the organisation to move forward.
Definitely another area where the intentional design will play a road, as a critical attribute for Leadership. Which, in this case, needs to be more and more distributed.
What do you think?
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