Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How A Sense Of Community Can Help Us Achieve Greatness


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed by various media outlets about my first book, “Leadership Vertigo”. What’s been interesting about this process is how in many of these conversations, there was much interest to discuss the point made in the book about the importance of leaders fostering a sense of community in their organizations.

As long-time readers of my writings on leadership know, this is something that’s been an underlying theme in many of my insights into how we can be a better leader to those we serve – where we ensure that we’re creating an environment where our employees understand the value of their contributions and why we collectively do what we do.

Of course, in these conversations about my book, the focus is not on the relevance of community-building in today’s organizations, but rather how do we go about doing this in light of the numerous demands on a leader’s time, attention and resources while operating in a doing-more-with-less environment.

It’s a great question and the answer to which is one that I want to share with my readers so that they too can understand how we can go about fostering that sense of community in our organizations despite the accelerated pace that we now have to operate in.

And to help illustrate these points, I’m going to use examples from two very diverse organizations – Pixar Animation Studios and the European Space Agency – in order to help demonstrate the value and importance of fostering a sense of belonging and purpose to helping your organization to succeed and thrive now and in the years ahead.

1. Create opportunities for employees to interact outside of formal roles
When Pixar began designing its new campus ground in Emeryville, California, then Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs wanted to create a common meeting space for the organization’s employees in order to facilitate sparks of creativity, inspiration, and “unplanned collaborations”.

The goal in establishing such an environment was simple – by creating an open space for people to meet and discuss, employees from different departments would be encouraged to intermingle in order to share their insights and experiences.

For example, a purchasing manager could share delightful stories of what their child said or did which evokes the child-like wonder that’s become a hallmark of Pixar’s most successful films. Or a computer programmer could talk about a fond childhood memory of exploring this far-off imaginary world that might inspire the backdrop used to tell an upcoming story on film.

By creating an environment where employees from various departments could connect, communicate, and engage, Pixar’s leadership was able to provide their employees with the kinds of insights and experiences that have helped to make their movies so magical and beloved by people of all ages.

And the only way they were able to tap into this wellspring of creativity, inspiration, and insights was because they had created an environment where employees from every department felt a sense of belonging and shared purpose because they understood the interdependency between their collective efforts.

Similarly, in your organization, it’s important that you provide and encourage opportunities for your employees to interact with those outside of their teams and departments, so that they might better understand the perspectives of one another, as well as see for themselves the shared purpose that drives their individual efforts to succeed.

2. Don’t lose sight of the journey taken so far
When it comes to understanding the journey an organization has to take to achieve the shared purpose that defines their collective efforts, last week’s historic landing of the Philae probe on comet 67P is certainly a unique one.

After all, the idea of waiting 10 years to see if all the time, planning, and efforts you made – not to mention the investment of billions of dollars – will ultimately pay off is for most of us a concept that’s as alien as the surface on which the Philae lander now rests. And yet, the journey that the European Space Agency and its scientists underwent to achieve this long-term goal is nonetheless one we can all relate to and learn from.

For as much as the public is celebrating and cheering their achievement of landing a probe on a comet, interviews with some of the scientists about some of the current challenges the mission now faces brings forth stories of some of the obstacles and difficulties they had to overcome in order to reach this historic milestone.

For this community of researchers, every hurdle they overcome is as much a victory as the dazzling photos being shared that have left so many of us in a state of wonderment.

And this is an important lesson for all leaders to take note of – that while it is critical to make time to celebrate the successes and achievements you attain, it is equally important that you not overlook the lessons learned in having to address the various challenges that stood in your way.

As much as we might like to be defined by our successes, we are also a product of our failures, and how we chose to overcome the hurdles and roadblocks that impeded our ability to move forward.

By recognizing that these moments were a shared experience – as well as highlighting what we collectively learned from them – we can reinforce that sense of community and belonging. That this wasn’t a situation or problem that impacted only a few of us, but that its repercussions were felt throughout our organization and was an issue we all played a part in resolving.

3. Promote a sense of shared ownership in your organization’s vision
Although these organizations are vastly different in terms of the objectives that define why they do what they do, one thing that they clearly share in common is how the employees at both Pixar and the European Space Agency feel a sense of shared ownership in their organization’s vision.

In listening to the stories shared by employees of these two organizations, we can see that what mattered to them wasn’t their own individual contributions, but how their efforts were connected to the bigger picture that drove their collective efforts.

And this helped to fuel the collective creativity found in each of these organizations, which was vital to their ability to discover those novel ideas and solutions necessary for their achieving the long term objectives that defined their organization’s vision and overall purpose.

Being able to foster this sense of shared ownership among their employees was also critical for both organizations given how their employees had to wait years before they could know whether the efforts and contributions they made had created something of value. This sense of shared ownership also enabled their employees to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that few could have attained this achievement.

Creating this sense of shared ownership in your organization is vital to your organization’s long term growth and prosperity as the ability to feel that kind of ownership not just in your individual contributions, but in the collective efforts of your organization is very much at the heart of such memorable and lauded achievements.

After all, as much as it’s the singular achievement that we celebrate, it is also how these accomplishments exemplify the tenacity and drive of the human spirit to make the imagined our new reality. Of what we’re capable of when we move beyond ourselves to find a sense of belonging and purpose in a vision or idea that’s bigger than ourselves.

In helping to guide your organization forward in today’s faster paced, interconnected global economy, it’s becoming more and more critical to your leadership success that your employees can see for themselves how their talents, creativity, and experiences can help to bring the ideas and vision that define your organization to life, and hopefully inspire others to imagine what we could achieve next.

In the end, we have to remind ourselves that the only way we can get our employees to care about our organization’s goals is by showing them that we care about theirs as well. That we care about their hopes, their dreams and ambitions, and how being a member of our organization’s community will help them to move one step closer to fulfilling their personal vision of what they want their lives to represent.

We have to come to terms with the reality of today’s workplaces where employees no longer start and end their careers in the same organization. Instead, they’ve become more nomadic in their work careers, hanging their shingles on the organizational rooftop as long as they feel that they can make a difference; that they can grow and evolve while knowing that they are valued members of our community.

By fostering and promoting this sense of community in our organizations, we will not only be able to attract the best people to help make our vision a reality, but we will also be able to tap into their native talents, creativity, and experiences to help us create work that matters to all.

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  1. On November 18th, 2014 at 10:32 AM Chris said:

    Developing a sense of community is such an important factor in succeeding as an organization. Groups of people, working towards a common goal or vision are powerful given the right leadership.

    Leading change is such an undervalued skill and I for one would love to see more emphasis on coaching managers and executives in this area. As a consultant, I have witnessed a general sense that clients are willing to 'outsource' change leadership, which in my opinion is not effective.

    Building a vision, generating energy & momentum and forging a culture that fosters community must be led from inside the organization. Consultants can coach, but can't be relied on to effectively lead the charge.

  2. On November 21st, 2014 at 11:19 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Chris for sharing your thoughts on this. I do agree that fostering a sense of community in organizations has to be generated and sustained internally for it to really take hold and matter.

  3. On November 26th, 2014 at 8:44 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Good points. How do organizations stay on course in their journey towards the big picture when there is constant re-organization vs. keeping leadership in place for a relatively long period of time?

  4. On November 26th, 2014 at 11:15 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That's a great question, Jim, and it reflects the necessity of making time during our hectic days for reflection and review; that we don't get consumed in the noise and rush to simply get things done to the point that we're not assessing where this will lead us and how exactly these efforts are ensuring we are in fact staying the course.

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