How well do you know your immediate co-workers? Do you know them beyond their job titles and responsibilities? Do you feel like you belong to a community at work?

One of the many reasons why I love my job is because of the people I work with.  I love that we have a sense of camaraderie and that we consider ourselves as friends to one another and we just don’t see each other as co-workers.  In my previous position (same organization) when I was managing a team of 8 staff members,  I made the effort to promote an environment where my staff can freely share their personal lives to the extent they are willing to share. I have always believed that part of being a happy employee is to feel like you belong to a team, that you are not just co-workers given tasks to complete. We spend more time at work with our co-workers than our families that I made it a point to cultivate an environment that fosters personal interaction and friendships, basically, a community.

As part of our 1 hour weekly staff meeting, we spend about 15 minutes just going around during our “check in” part of the meeting just discussing how our weekends went and any event that might have happened to them since our last meeting. This routine was very important to our team especially given that 2 of our team members are full-time telecommuters and they join us via web conference.  It is truly amazing how within these 15 minutes each week, we were able to share about our personal lives. Because this routine has been practiced for years, we’ve shared the joys/trials of parenthood, the emotional rollercoaster of buying houses and shared our personal hobbies and interests.

We also frequently have long email/IM discussions about politics, technologies, sports, religion and while some managers may see these email/IM exchanges as waste of time, I actually value them. To me, I see these exchanges as team building.

Just a month ago, I was promoted to a position that is now responsible for leading 17 employees, including the team I previously managed and now includes 3 other teams. The challenge in building a community is a little different now because of the size of my staff. In addition, each of these teams has their own separate unit meetings. One of the first things I did when I was placed in this position was to meet with every single one of my staff to get their input on  the organization and just to introduce myself. What I realized after having talked to all of them is how we really don’t know each other! Most of my co-workers have been in our organization for years, even longer than a decade, yet beyond the job titles and our responsibilities, we really don’t know much beyond that. In my mind, there’s a definite need to provide opportunities for the entire staff to start getting to know each other and so here’s some ideas some of my staff and I have come up with to promote community building:

  • Create “personal profile pages” via an internal wiki site. These pages are voluntary so if a staff member does not want to create one, that’s perfectly okay.  However, just in the last week since we created the wiki site, 7 of our staff have actually created their own profile page which includes their professional experience as well as personal interests. On a side note, when I mentioned this idea of creating profile pages to a co-worker of mine, he was emphatic that no one will be willing to share their personal information.
  • Use meetings to be used beyond project status reporting and continue the “check in” routine I used with my previous team.
  • Identify opportunities for collaboration/interaction across units.  One of the projects we are working on now is to establish development standards. Projects such as this provides the opportunity for work-groups to be formed consisting of team members from all the units.
  • Use training activities to get people together and socialize. Beyond the obvious benefit of learning something new, training sessions are one of those few times the entire staff can get together.
  • Use community service as a way of interaction outside the work environment. Not only does it provide opportunities for the team  to interact with each other, I think it brings positive morale given that we are contributing  something good for others.
  • More open communication across units. I am encouraging my staff to freely ask questions to the entire team or offer any ideas they would like to offer via email, IM or just visiting their co-workers.

Ultimately, my goal as a leader is to promote an environment that promotes community building. I truly believe that employees who feel they belong to a group that values them as human beings, not just workers, are more productive and will go beyond what is asked of them.  Personally, I love working with people I consider my friends, which makes me excited to go to work every day.

What other community building ideas have you used and recommend?