POSTED April 1 2011 BY Sue

Connection and Community

At Connectiveness we have found ourselves having several conversations with leaders in organisations over the last few months about how to move from an over differentiated (silo mentality) and over individuated (focussed on self interest) culture to one in which people feel more of a sense of belonging and community, a sense of connectedness.  This doesn’t surprise us as we believe that in the Western world we are currently in the throes of a transition from an old paradigm which dates from the Industrial Revolution and is about individual greed and growth for growth’s sake, to a new paradigm which is more about community, communication and collaboration.

As so often happens, we have found that we are not the only ones having conversations or indeed writing on this subject. I have just read a blog written by John Watters in which he reviews Peter Block’s book on this subject entitled Community: The Structure of Belonging. This inspired me to read the book and I would thoroughly recommend it.

 Peter Block argues strongly that we need to strengthen the vitality and connectedness of our communities and the degree of relatedness and belonging that exists everywhere. To support this he provides us with some significant insights into how to build community and bring about collective change. The key ideas from the book that apply to building community in organisations are:-

Conversations matter: this includes the stories inside our heads as well as how we listen, speak and communicate meaning to others. Block asserts that all transformation is linguistic as it is about changing mindsets in order to change behaviours.  This reminds me of the words of David Whyte in “Crossing the Unknown Sea”. He talks about”courageous, compelling conversations… that are not about the work of leaders they are the work of leaders.”

Community and connectedness are built one conversation at a time: “community building is so complex it occurs in an infinite number of small steps, sometimes in quiet moments out of the corner of our eye.” He talks about a quality of aliveness that is needed in each step. The shift we seek to make needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, each meeting we hold. We also need to pay attention to the space in which we hold meetings or gatherings as Block prefers to call them – “community is built when we sit in circles, when there are windows and the walls have signs of life, when every voice can be equally heard…”  At Connectiveness we would also always spend time preparing the energy of the space in which we are meeting.  This level of preparation is easily overlooked by those managing change and transformation in organisations.

Everyone in the organisation can be leaderful. Much of our leadership thinking in organisations focuses on top leaders as the cause and others as effect. Block says “that way, leaders are foreground while anyone else not in a leadership position is background. This love of leaders limits our capacity to create an alternative future. ..The effect of buying into this is that it lets those not in leadership positions off the hook and breeds dependency and entitlement. Perhaps this is the mindset that keeps an unproductive Top-Bottom dynamic going in organisations.” We need to simplify leadership and see it as a quality that exists in all human beings. The people who are Tops in organisations need to play the role of “Conveners” – their role is to set up the conversation, including the nature of the invitation, as this affects whether or not people fall into the same old patterns or not; ask powerful questions that engage people in an intimate way; confront people with their freedom and invite them to co-create a future possibility.

Amplify the positive and focus on potential not problems. Block underlines the importance of focussing on gifts, assets, resources and possibilities rather than problems and deficiencies. We would add that all problems, crises and challenges can be viewed from the perspective of the potential that they can help to realise. Also, what you focus on is what you bring into reality so if you look for problems and deficiencies that’s what you will get. It is much more fruitful to pay attention to what is going well, to strengths, to possibilities and to potential.

Connecting with those who are different to us. Block explains that due to projection and stereo-typing we rapidly form “us and them” group identities that polarise and separate us. Learning to take back our projections and build relationship with the stranger or the “other” is a key skill in building community. Collective or communal transformation happens when we get connected to those who we previously saw as “other”.

Teams are the unit of transformation. Block sees small groups of 3 to 12 people as the unit of transformation, the place where a feeling of belonging is created. However, small groups need to feel their relationship to the larger whole. This can be done through bringing large groups together to work on visions, build strategy, define work processes and create direction for organisations and communities. Large group methods create ownership, engage large numbers of people and help the culture evolve. This focus on teamwork includes those in senior leadership teams. In this complex, rapidly changing world leadership by one strong charismatic individual is no longer appropriate, collective, collaborative leadership is what is required.

These themes are challenging organisations to:-

  • value and reward the ability to connect, communicate, engage others and build relationships rather than purely focussing on delivery of the task
  • to review the balance between rewarding individual success versus team/group success
  • to develop a more expansive view of leadership and re-define the role of those in senior leadership positions

These are exciting conversations to be engaged in and we are looking forward to connecting and collaborating with any of you who are engaged in similar conversations and to supporting the organisations we work alongside in developing appropriate ways to implement some of these ideas.