4 Things That Identify a Great Community

Tomorrow starts Cohort #12 of an amazing program created in Michigan called Shifting Gears that helps people through job transitions.  My involvement in the last year has been a blessing in many ways, not the least of which being the amazing team that I get to work with since starting as the lead facilitator of the program in June.

A cornerstone of the program is creating a community that supports the hard work of making a career transition.  Dr. Diana Wong, who is the creator of the program, added this unique aspect because she understands hard work and achievement.  She also is a master at creating community around herself as a normal habit, and how she does that is probably worth a couple more blog entries.

A great community, like a great team, has some unique characteristics that make it a special place.  Here are four that stand out as I think of Shifting Gears.  Great communities are:

  • Welcoming –  One habit in Shifting Gears is asking people to stand up and say their name when they speak.  When a guest speaker comes in that habit becomes a way to welcome every time someone speaks because they know the name of the person who is speaking.  We also put speakers before lunch so they can stay and share a meal/conversation with the participants.  As a facilitator, whenever someone stops in to share the space with us (ie. a guest) I stop whatever I am doing to make a proper introduction.  Taking time to get to know each other, knowing the names of new people, and greeting with a smile are welcoming steps.  Great communities do this out of habit.
  • Supportive – The formal time together might be meetings, learning events, or even organized gatherings.  Great communities go beyond that by asking How can I support you as you prepare for this networking event? or I noticed you are not yourself today – What is happening in your life right now?. Support is ultimately an action, but it starts with a question and the presence to work through a meaningful answer.
  • Require involvement/ownership – There is a charge of $500 to join Shifting Gears, and for someone who is without a job this is a sacrifice to spend this money.  It would be very easy (and happens often) to come into the room the first day with a customer centric approach that asks What can this program do for me? – after all that is what I paid for.  Joining a community is not about What can I get out of this?. We reframe that question to What is the work I need to be doing for/in this community? .  A great example is networking.  A program circulates want adds or connects job seeker to job boards.  Shifting Gears has a big focus on networking, connecting people to networking events, encouraging the sharing of networking events within the community, and asking people to own the work of networking.
  • Forgiving – Communities have high standards and challenging goals, and sometimes people fail to meet the standards.  Great communities circle around people when they have a setback, and help them work through it.

The four points above can be used by a leader to measure the progress of the team towards becoming a great community.

I look forward to walking with the 39 individuals that will show up tomorrow as we create a community within the new Cohort #12.