As new forms of community emerge at such a rapid pace, leaders are struggling to cope with the radical challenges of constant change and capitalizing on this shift. The benefits of community-building for leaders and influencers are numerous – from better business outcomes to personal growth and lifelong connections. There are four primary ways to implement a community-building strategy:
We provisionally adopt the term “tribe” to describe a community arising around a person, business, product, idea or cause, creating synergies from the accompanying interactions and transactions. Tribe, however, has some unfortunate connotations and associations due to the way in which strictly tribal orientations can lead to divisions and polarisation. An alternative is offered by the Argonauts, who apply their mythic metaphor of a voyage of courageous heroes and use the term “crew” cooperating to steer and power a Leadership vessel, itself providing a scalable model of guidance and resources for fellow leaders and their organizations.
The first place you want to start building a tribe is within your organization. This is the most obvious and logical step: these are among the people closest and most important to you when it comes to achieving your goals. However: just employing people does not make them a community or feel part of something bigger. Even if they are engaged, happy and are doing great work, this doesn’t guarantee that your team will self-identify as a tribe – but these are certainly contributing factors. Creating an internal community requires you to design your culture in a certain way, accounting for factors such as a common purpose, shared values, a family environment and shared rituals.
1) Shared Purpose – There has to be a reason for your organization’s existence that can unite your people around a common goal. At a base level, this can come in the form of beating the competition and becoming the number one player in your market. This in-group versus out-group dynamic plays on one of the fundamental factors which drive tribal behavior – uniting and defining yourself in relation to the other. On another level, if you have a purpose that can transcend the superficial us-against-them zero-sum game and give deeper meaning to people’s work, then you can further create a sense of community on a shared mission among your crew. For instance, you can create a narrative that plays on people’s need to be doing impactful work by highlighting the broader influence on social change that your business is having. Or you can organize company activities, from corporate contribution to volunteering for social good, that directly creates impact, connections and results.
2) Shared Values – Your internal tribe needs to have a set of unique and explicit values. Many organizations make the mistake of coming up with artificial or generic values. If the values and goals are unrealistic or irrelevant, they may prove counterproductive when they fail to be met and realized. The best values you can create exist somewhere already in either your team’s makeup, the product you are making, or the audience/customers you are serving. For instance, a team that is selling customer support software may promote the value of cheerfulness which may prove useful when dealing with angry customers. These values work together to create a shared self-definition and identification within your internal tribe – this is who we are and this is what defines us.
3) Shared Perceptions – How your team sees each other – their perception of the group as a whole and their individual relationships – is likely the defining factor as to whether you have succeeded in building a tribe. Your company needs to feel like an extended family as opposed to individuals who simply work in the same office. This may sound simplistic, or idealistic, but never forget that the workplace is where we spend most of our time. This presence means that there are constant opportunities to facilitate deeper connections among your people which can lead to a greater sense of belonging. Typically, this happens when there is an environment of trust built from a culture of empathy – giving equal priority to subjective emotion, vulnerability and effort alongside logic and business results.
4) Shared Rituals – Most tribes have a set of rituals which reinforces their identity and belonging in a physical way. Rituals may derive from ancient practices or the most modern popular culture routines. But all can be adopted and adapted by modern organizations as well. Consider rituals such as initiations for new hires. This could include them doing something fun to break the ice with other employees, or preparing a welcome package or a buddy system. Some companies inject different elements into their daily stand-ups such as chants or knowledge sharing. On people’s birthdays or on a set day each week or month, you could create a special event which reflects your company’s identity and values, or imparts the vision of leadership throughout the organization.
Once you have started to successfully mold your organization into a tribe, you can then direct your focus outwards. It is important to do it in this order, as the people who work at your company will be the first ones to represent and seed your tribe on the outside. They are your ambassadors and evangelists, so give them the tools, media, and respect they deserve. Outside the organization, the people who you want to bring into your fray include your customers, the media, investors and partners – everybody belonging to the ecosystem in which you operate can become advocates of your tribe. Bringing them together in this way creates alignment among key stakeholders, amplifying outcomes such as growth, loyalty and brand equity. Here are some factors to consider.
As your customers rarely have physical closeness and time with your company, you will need to think of ways to create an identity and lifestyle which reflects your internal tribe and what you are trying to achieve. This gives your customers something even bigger than your product with which to identify, something which adds value to their lives beyond their needs and wants. Harley Davidson may sell motorcycles, but the moment you purchase a Harley you are making a conscious decision about who you are and the lifestyle you lead, and Harley knows it. Another example is Gymshark, which has become more than than a brand of clothes and accessories for the gym. They have used social media to build a community and lifestyle around fitness excellence.
What makes a community distinctive is its ability to attract an audience and engage active participation. To really create a community you need to integrate your customers, the media, investors, and partners into your processes. This can take many forms, such as contributing to product innovation. Having your external tribe suggest ideas about new features, entirely new products and even the direction of the company not only helps solve problems. It also creates a loyal, engaged following. An example of this is Starbucks Ideas – a forum where coffee fanatics can submit and vote on ideas for the company to take into consideration.
Your external tribe doesn’t have physical rituals and intimacy to reinforce a sense of belonging, but you can create environments in which they can connect through events and activities. In the physical space, this can come in the form of conferences, local meetups, and retreats. This is typically the playbook of many communities and an effective formula, particularly when events occur on a recurring basis. But you can also make use of digital platforms to organize events. Live streaming, for instance, has become popular in recent years as an exciting way to connect your internal and external tribes. You can also create digital platforms where consumers can congregate, meet each other, and share ideas and entertainment, as seen with examples such as the Adobe forums, and live music events.
Content plays an important role in creating a community as it acts as a buffer that keeps people constantly in the loop by reinforcing a shared identity and lifestyle. This is especially helpful if the physical events you organize are infrequent or inaccessible to everyone in your community. Content should originate from from your organization first, but if you can also integrate community-generated content to increase participation and engagement. For instance, GoPro built a huge community around encouraging individual users to upload extreme sporting content which they then distributed on their social platforms.
People form communities around influential individuals and their ideas. When you put the two together you get thought leadership, which is proving to be one of the most powerful ways to build communities. Thought leadership benefits both your company and yourself in the form of increased visibility, trust, and goodwill that comes from providing value to your group. Typically, this involves leveraging you or your company’s unique expertise in a particular area to create content around which people can unite. This concept is also related to the idea of personal branding, now a staple of building influence and leadership stature.
An example of thought leadership can be seen with the lean startup movement which emphasizes rapid iterations and validating ideas before launching full products. In startup circles, this “lean” idea has become a lifestyle and philosophy for many. In a similar vein, for more established organizations, you have the agile development movement which emphasizes a structured method for expediting company workflow. Like lean, agile has created an entire ecosystem and community around a set of ideas and processes – from community meetups to consultants that assist companies in making agile transformations.
Aside from building your own communities, you will want to join and align yourself with already established organizations. For business leaders, the most obvious sources of community can be found in general leadership networks, entrepreneurial organizations, industry groups, and political action committees. But you don’t need to limit yourself to business interests – you can join influential communities around philanthropic endeavors such as education and clean water or art and cultural associations. Here’s a quick overview of the main types of influential communities:
The vast scale, multiplicity, and diversity of influential communities can seem confusing, even overwhelming. It comes to no surprise that a few leadership and social learning organizations have taken it upon themselves to be a networking force for connection, collaboration, and communication among the many groups catering to leaders and influencers. We call this meta-leadership, because they aim to provide an innovative digital connective layer to link and network colleagues and collegial organizations for the benefit of all, according to the principle that a rising tide, in this case of knowledge and cooperation, raises all ships. Especially leaderships!
The Argonauts are a relatively new example of a meta-leadership community. Initiator Stefan Beiten, a co-founder of Berlin’s influential YPO chapter and a veteran of numerous leadership groups, gathered like-minded colleagues from diverse fields – business, artists, scholars, social entrepreneurs – and sought to channel their energies into creating leaders and improving existing leadership communities.
Compared to some older business and fraternal organizations, the Argonauts are a diverse, pluralistic, inclusive group which considers more than monetary success as criteria when selecting new members to its admittedly exclusive leadership crew. Rather, the community places a person’s commitment, engagement, and passion at the forefront.
The Argonauts, as a meta-leadership group, aim to provide digital connective tissue between and among various leader and influencer communities – bringing together knowledge, culture, and business under one digital roof, allowing members to benefit from networking with fellow leaders and a multiplicity of diverse communities. Its approach is synergistic and complementary, for example adopting successful aspects of face-to-face discussion forums while adapting them to its videoconference, collaboration, and dissemination network.
MindValley is an example of an influential community combining a cause with cultural and educational ambitions. The group describes itself as a ‘global school for humanity’, with the idea being to evolve education by providing a community empowered transformational and fun experience. The community is not confined to a single location – its ‘rotating campus’ moves to a new city each year. In between, the group offers an online curriculum which livestreams events and makes extensive use of new media. Their aim is to create an environment of lifelong learning accessible to all and nurturing continuing curiosity.
MindValley has introduced a community model to education that involves people of all ages and backgrounds. Parents are invited to accompany their child on learning journeys and events that go beyond structured academics into what they describe as quests. These quests are assigned and delivered by a community of experts which cover a broad range of topics such as holistic healing, health, and peak performance.
The World Economic Forum is an organization with the stated aim of improving the world. They gather every year for a summit in Davos to discuss the key issues facing the world, such as the ethics of AI, widening inequality, and nuclear proliferation. The WEF community is comprised of some of the most influential individuals in the world, including politicians, academics, journalists, and executives of the largest corporations. It is a unique community which covers aspects of leadership, politics, industry, and causes.
The WEF is one of the most exclusive communities as their focus is on bringing together what they deem as the most impactful people to solve collective problems. But if you are somebody with significant influence, possessing extraordinary insight, thought leadership, or are actively working on a major cause, there is a chance that you can be admitted and benefit from what is likely the most powerful platform in the world. Not only will you gain perspective on the biggest issues of our time, you will rub shoulders with some of the most important people of our era.
In the future, the importance of cultivating leadership communities will only grow. Traditionally, businesses could operate in a cold transactional manner with no real connection to the customer. With the rise of the internet and social media, this closed approach is dead in the water. In its place is a brave new world brimming with social and business entrepreneurs, each competing for attention and engagement with branding, personal engagement, and aspirational customer lifestyle taking center stage. In the future, various communities, operating in the cloud, but activating grass roots citizens and enriched by mass participation, will provide the performance stages, immersive experience, the social engagements, and the platforms for our interactions and transactions.
The goal of all communities is to create the viral and network effects that catapult growth and make them central forces in the lives of their members and the broader society. That is no small challenge, but leadership organizations like the Argonauts, YPO and EO together with social learning initiatives like MindValley and IVY are generating excitement with their commitment to knowledge sharing, curated best practices, and an open-ended social university – one might call it a multiversity – capable of supporting and scaling the blossoming of these new communities of our digital age.
In the near future, we can expect to see more alignment and participation between communities. Influential communities and tribes are cooperating with each other to solve problems and work on projects at scale. The days of the lone hero are past: Key issues such as protecting the environment, addressing income equalities and maximizing human potential can only be solved with broad alignment and active engagement of leaders across the full spectrum of enterprise and endeavor.
Sascha Grumbach is an entrepreneur with comprehensive practical experience as a business consultant and project manager in innovation and disruption projects.