Whether or not you’re attempting to build a sense of community in the workplace, your office is a social place and it will, despite any designs to the contrary, function like one. How so? When you staffed your organization, you had a division of labor in mind, but you didn’t hire roles and responsibilities. You hired individuals with unique personalities, attitudes, quirks, likes, and dislikes. And these individuals have formed (or avoided) relationships beyond the ways their various positions were intended to interact. In every office, the personal is fused with the professional.
Office relationships are going to form—some inclusive and some exclusive. And some employees will isolate themselves as best they can. These dynamics can serve the interests of your organization or work against them. They can build a healthy culture or an unhealthy one. So you have a choice. You can stand back and allow these personal dynamics to crystalize and go where they will, whatever the costs, or you can step up and encourage your employees to come together behind a common purpose and shared set of values.
How do you bring everyone together and foster a community? Start by clearly defining your mission. Every healthy community has something uniting it, binding it together—a culture. As a communal place, your office should also have a culture, a shared sense of purpose. At a company meeting or a staff retreat, discuss the values of your organization and the purpose they serve. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Discuss your culture as a whole group and within your individual teams. If employees understand the culture and see how they can contribute to the overall mission, they’ll be more personally invested in it.
With a shared sense of purpose, you can implement company policies and practices that make cultural sense. If one of your values is openness to criticism and new ideas, then institute an open-door policy with management, where employees can bring concerns and ideas to management’s attention. If your company values trust and personal responsibility, consider offering unlimited PTO. Go through all of your policies, asking yourself how each represents one or more of your values. If some policies don’t fit, maybe it’s time to jettison them or find a way to bring them in line with your workplace culture.
When the operations of your company fit with its mission and culture, they become a strong and flexible framework in which relationships can form, develop, and flourish. And when these relationships work towards a common purpose, then you have a strong community—diverse employees committed to the company’s mission and eager to accomplish great things together.