It’s been an unexpected year that has, among many things, upended how we work, how we collaborate, and how we interact with our colleagues. Just over a year ago, many organisations were forced, with little notice or preparation, to switch to remote working. The focus at the time had to be ensuring people were able to do their jobs from home.
One year on, we can begin to see the impact this shift is having. Our workplace communities have taken a hit: 31% of people feel less connected to their leaders, while 37% feel less connected to their teammates. Yet we know community-building at work matters: people who feel a sense of belonging at work are at least 5 times more likely to be engaged.
Our current social disconnection also has negative implications for learning: 91% of L&D leaders agree teams that learn new skills together are more successful. However, learning also offers a pathway into a solution: 92% of L&D leaders agree that shared learning helps foster a sense of belonging.
This means development programmes can be rich spaces for building community while people are apart. We don’t need to be together to build community. Want to get a head start before the return to physical? There’s learning we can draw from history.
To meet this challenge, it’s time we rethink how we build programmes. Instead of thinking like programme designers, we need to think like nation-builders.
“Instead of thinking like programme designers, we need to think like nation-builders.”
Nations are the perfect example of “feeling together when we’re apart” because we will never in a lifetime meet everyone who shares the same nation as us. Yet, if you’re British, travelling in another country and you meet another person from the UK, you’ll feel connected to them. You might strike a conversation, have a drink, and feel you share something. Even though you’re effectively strangers.
That’s because there are important things we share with people from the same nation as us, that create a sense of community whether or not we ever meet these folks in person.
We’ve drawn from the principles of nation-building to identify 5 tips on how you can build those important things that make up a nation into virtual/hybrid programmes. In doing so, you can begin building belonging and community for your people.
Anthropologists use the word ‘communitas’ to refer to moments of intense social togetherness and belonging. For example, singing our favourite song at a concert with 5,000 other people, or being part of that chorus of cheers when our team scores a goal.
It’s the power of shared experiences. And experiences come in many forms. Studies have found our brainwaves sync up when we’re in an audience listening to the same story, in a group learning the same thing, or simply having a conversation about something we share.
How can you create ‘communitas’ in your programmes?
From emojis to ‘omnishambles’. From elbow bumps to dabbing. From branded swag to newspaper headlines. Shared language and symbols give us shortcuts for communicating, sharing, and connecting.
For historians and sociologists, shared symbols are at the root of our ability to form complex communities. Newspapers and magazines, for example, helped us form today’s modern nations. Across a nation, we all read the same headlines, see the same news, and share in the same language with people we’re unlikely to meet in person.
How can you develop shared language in your programmes?
Anthropologists define rituals as repeated behaviours that are imbued with meaning. Think of preparing a holiday meal. You aren’t just roasting a joint and some starch. You’re preparing a shared meal steeped in symbolism and meaning—family, country, love, nourishment, etc.
Rituals anchor us and they connect us with each other. Consider this last holiday season. It might have helped to know that, even if you weren’t celebrating the holidays with your family, you were sharing in rituals with them while apart.
How can you create rituals in your programmes?
Competition gives us a quick shortcut to creating strong in- and out-group behaviours. A strong sense of belonging with our ‘in-group’ allowed us to survive as small bands of humans who had to survive harsh conditions by uniting us around a shared goal.
We can apply that same principle of using competition to unite today, by creating groups that compete in the pursuit of a shared goal (in our case, winning rather than surviving!). However, it is important that competition be done well so it unifies without being divisive
How can you embed constructive competition in your programmes?
Nothing brings people together like clarity of purpose.
Shared purpose aligns people toward an aim. It gives them a set of values they can use to establish norms, both of which are important building blocks for community. Through this, it builds a sense of belonging.
How can you anchor your programme in purpose?
For many of us, the last year was a reactive response to COVID-19 and the forced shift to remote working. This next year, which is likely to bring a shift to hybrid working, is fortunately a year in which we can be proactive in our approach to learning and development. And importantly, to community-building in your virtual and hybrid development programmes.
Whether your programme will be virtual, hybrid or face-to-face, we hope these five tips help. And remember: think like a nation-builder.