How To Build A Community of Collaboration

What is a community?

Can you have one at work?

Should you?

If you want more of a community feel, how do you create it?

Whose job is it?

Senior management? Frontline leaders? The employees? HR?

Do programs produce community or do people?

Today, I raise more questions than answers.

Community Can Happen

Some of the teams and organizations I have been part of have become a community. Some have not.

You know it when you are in it. I was recently reminded of the great community we had built in an organization I worked in years ago. On Saturday, I walked into a funeral home to support Maria, a woman who worked for me many years ago whose mother had passed. I was surprised to see the parade of familiar faces coming in the door, most of whom hadn’t worked with Maria for years. Many of them were retired. The community had spread the word, and they were back to help Maria deal with the loss of her mom. The conversation was important and rich. We hadn’t missed a beat. That’s community.

I watch my husband grow in his firefighter community. They all come in well before their shifts so the person they are relieving can leave early. It’s unspoken. They are always wiling to trade shifts to help one another manage work and family. There is always someone cooking for the group, and everyone contributes to keeping things clean. Watching this gives me a whole new perspective on the word, “union.” If someone isn’t contributing to the community, it’s noticed, but isn’t a large topic of conversation. There is a feeling it will all work out in the end. As far I can tell, the behavior has little to do with someone in management leading the charge.

And so, I’ve been asking everyone I see:

Have you ever worked on a team that had genuine community? What did it look like?

Here’s what I’ve collected so far, what would you add?

  • We trust that everyone’s doing the best they can
  • No one keeps score
  • We have each other’s backs
  • No blindsides
  • We share best practices
  • We don’t let one another fail
  • I can feel safe asking for help
  • We talk well about one another to our boss and others
  • We surface disagreements and fight when needed don’t take conflicts personally
  • I know their families (or at least about them)
  • We celebrate
  • We eat (and drink) together
  • We do volunteer work together
  • ???
Posted in Career & Learning, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. This is the best part of my job. Almost every summer this happens with our summer staff. We have however had summers that a genuine community never surfaced. What did I do different those summers then others? I tried to be something I wasn’t. When I lead without being genuine, my entire team fails to genuinely connect. Luckily, out of 16 summers….we’ve only had 2 “bad” summers of community.

    We now have lots of small groups of dedicated friends who haven’t “worked” together in years. I think the key driving force is the shared mission. Here’s why….when we have staff alumni events, people who have never met…instantly connect as if they had been best friends for years. There is something so powerful about the summer camp staff experience. We influence the lives of our campers…we change the lives of our staff. Probably why I attend so many marriages of our camp staff getting married to each other….including my own. Shared mission and passion to move kids into a richer life is what connects our staff communities.

    Thanks for this post. I’m going to give this a lot more thought and talk with some of my staff. You’ve inspired me to write a post on why community happens so strong at summer camp….I’m sure there are lessons there for the “corporate” world. Maybe every office should have a daily campfire with s’mores and stories.

    • Eric, thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment. I am a HUGE fan of campfires. In fact, when my husband built our deck, I asked him to create a “singing nook” for such campfires. Wow… marriages… that is bonding at is finest. I look forward to reading your post on community at summer camp.

    • Steve, ahhh yes! I have found that too in some of the theater I have been a part of (but not all). It’s great that you had a feeling of equality… sometimes there are the “stars” who bring that feeling down. Sounds like you had some great magic.

  2. I’ve been a part of a community in a couple workgroups. What I remember: We cared about each other as teammates and people, we put our goals of the team above personal ones, we had each others backs and most important: no one kept score- you just did it because it was the right thing to do at the time. If fairness becomes an issue having community doesn’t stand a chance.

    • Great observation Eric regarding the scoreboard.

      Wouldn’t it be great, if we all showed up that way in all our interactions? It’s rare. It’s unique.

      It’s my intention to have a mindset to serve, serve, serve without wondering what I’ll get in return. Being a servant is living in the selflessness world. I like it.

  3. I have been involved in a great “community” that fell apart because of one change. At the time I was an Instructor for a fortune 100 company. It was an excellent job and everyone loved their roles. All of us talked about how we couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Then our senior manager took a promotion. The company chose to bring in someone new as opposed to promoting someone from within. The new manager lead by positional power. She micromanaged us, threatened our jobs and harped on all of our “opportunites for improvement.” She is still there, all but one of the original team have left. Now, as a manager in Leadership Development I work hard at creating an atmosphere of resonance. I always keep in mind that a happy team member is a more productive team member.

  4. Hey Karin,

    I’ll take a little bit of a contrarian perspective to focus on heterarchy. Some of the better collaborative communities I have developed and know collaborate where there is enlightened self-interest and compete in others. That process can be edgy, and is also highly entrepreneurial. It’s difficult to manage, but adds a lot more value than complete alignment.

    In this setting, there is a LOT of score-keeping – but it is of “members” keeping score on themselves and being accountable to the group for the value they are expected to bring. Nobody’s perfect, so when (and it’s when, not if) a member starts to get fuzzy on group expectations, they are urged back into line by the rest of the group.

    A key facet of the collaborative is a group focus on purpose. We may all know each other personally pretty well and work well together, but without the purpose as context, there is no collaborative. And thus, when the purpose is achieved, the collaborative either defines a new purpose (more frequently) or dissolves (less frequently). Each member has claims on their time, and the collaborative has to earn its share of member time.

    This is my favorite topic these days. My practice now almost totally focuses on developing collaborative ventures among multiple organizations. I appreciate the other comments and remain very interested in following your thinking as well.



  5. David, wow! Thanks so much for sharing your very insightful comments. You raise very important points. The dynamics you describe here can be so powerful. Great to have you part of the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.