You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of a professional network since early in your career; you know that a professional network contributes to your professional development. However, you may not have considered the notion of building a community among your team or colleagues.
We use networks to establish and extend contacts, develop professional relationships, and as resources for professional effectiveness and growth. Network relationships are typically not close, and not all members are networked together. For example, in your professional network, the members are connected to you but not necessarily to one another. Your network does not share a sense of common identity.
Communities are different. Unlike networks, communities bring with them membership (a sense of belonging,) purpose, relationships and engagement. Communities inspire their members in ways that promote self-awareness and group collaborative action. Communities encourage members to express their beliefs and values, to actively contribute and to build lasting relationships with others. Members feel a sense of common identity and belonging. They share a vision for the future. Members of a community also hold one another accountable for effort and performance.
A professional community is often called a “community of practice.” A community of practice refers to a group with a shared identity that actively enhances and protects a domain of knowledge — a professional community of people who feel responsible for collaborating toward a shared purpose that is more important than their individual needs.
You could probably identify members of your professional network easily. However, as administrative professionals and executive assistants, have we gone beyond networking to create, either locally or globally, an admin community? Is an admin community possible, and, if so, what would our purpose be? If the idea of a community appeals to you…if you are inspired to mobilize a group to become a community, cultivating these 10 traits will build a sense of community for the admins and assistants you hope to bring together.
1. Future focus: Some communities talk about “thinking five generations ahead.” Communities act and plan not only for the present but also to benefit those in the future. A vision of the future is a powerful bond and inspiration.
2. Connection (not contacts): When members feel connected they are motivated to actively contribute and work towards the goals of the community. Relationships within a community foster a sense of genuine connection through sharing, interaction and through experiences that bring members together to form strong bonds.
3. Engagement: Member contributions are an investment that reinforces commitment and trust. Create an environment in your community where members feel like they have a say in what happens and will be heard, not judged, when they express themselves. Get people involved in projects, activities and generating ideas.
4. Significance: Highlight shared goals, values and beliefs. Members need to believe that the community matters and what they are doing is important. Become a cause that they care about and provide them with value that they don’t want to lose.
5. Shared identity: Members want to feel that these are “their people,” that they fit in and this is where they belong. Emphasize common characteristics and challenges. Develop a sense of culture and embrace how far the profession and field have come.
6. Reward: People need to feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community in order to participate. A professional community focuses on promoting greater satisfaction and recognition for its members and their field. Offer connections that provide a support system, inspiration, a sense of belonging, solutions to common challenge and/or a sense of purpose.
7. Common good: Nurture fairness, diversity and trust. Your community members should experience that all are heard; none are favored. They should feel as though their concerns are adequately addressed and that the common good is a priority.
8. Accountability: You want people to accept some degree of obligation and accountability to act in the best interests of all. Encourage them to participate in activities and to think and act collectively.
9. Communication: Regular communication and shared information are essential for any effective community; they help to both establish and maintain a sense of community. Group members depend on the flow of communication in order to establish their own identity within the community and to function well in the group setting. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Meeting face-to-face or in small groups can add an incredible depth to large groups.
10. Leadership: This is where you come in. Communities do not just develop spontaneously without leadership. Leadership in a community isn’t about making or enforcing rules or telling people what to do; it is about matching tasks to the right people, facilitating working together and developing everyone’s ability to lead. This kind of leadership is more time consuming—and also more effective.
Effective community leaders lead by example. They stretch people by communicating a higher vision. They keep everyone informed about measurable results that have been achieved with collective action. They push the responsibility for achievement firmly onto the shoulders of others – and give others all the credit. They seek to develop every member’s capacity to lead.
This year’s Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants’ Summit are packed with opportunities to network, learn about leadership, and interact in like-minded groups. It’s a great way to get started on community building!