Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

One of the biggest question I’m holding with nurturing thriving communities is simple: what are the core motivations for people to show up in communities? What creates most value in community?

I sense that there are two basic reasons which energize people to engage: being together and doing together. And at the intersection of these two is learning together. These are far from being mutually exclusive and there is a lot of overlap, yet I sense that their core intentions are different.

Examples of being together: We come together to build relationships. We come for friendship, and to feel a sense of trust, belonging, home and safety. We show up to enjoy each other’s company, for laughter and fun. We celebrate the good moments together and care for each other in the painful moments. We come together to feel safe, to recharge and to fully express our own voice. We come together to grow as individuals and as groups. We come together to collectively make sense of the world around us.

Examples of learning together: We come together to learn from other members (peer learning) or from elders (mentorship). We come together to deepen our craft together (community of practice). We come together to share with others about our own work and to give feedback and perspective to other people’s work.

Examples of doing together: We come together to work together or to explore working together. We come together to create a shared outcome and to help solve problems for each other.We come together to support each other’s careers, to support each other professionally. We share opportunities with each other and we dive into opportunities together. We work together on a collective challenge that we choose together, or we work together on the project of one of us.

One way to think about it: Being and Doing as different ends of the same spectrum
Another way to think about it: Being and Doing as different dimension of what creates value in communities?

Observations

The modes of doing and being are quite different

  • Being together requires a patient, long-term approach and works best when we go about it without too specific expectations. Kindness, openness, deep listening, trust, a feeling of safety are key.
  • Doing together is different: it means we have a clear goal that we’re trying to achieve. All of a sudden, deadlines, reliability, responsiveness, project goals, team roles, budgets and sharp focus matter.
  • Being together needs a commitment to fellow humans. Doing together needs a commitment to an outcome. These two things can clash.
  • I sense that there are many more people we can be in harmonious relationship with than there are people we work well with. Working together needs a very specific match of character, skills, working styles.
  • Because these modes are different, when we move from one mode to the other, we cross a threshold that needs a different set of agreements and expectations. In many communities that threshold gets crossed without much explicit acknowledgement.

Expanding from working to being is hard, from being to working is easy

I recently learned about a community of coders who come together regularly to work on client projects. They have started to explore the “learning together” element through peer to peer teaching. And ideally they want to expand the community beyond the work realm, more into the space of friendships and personal growth. But in many of the groups I have observed, going from working together to being together is hard: all of a sudden it becomes deeply personal and that requires a switch in language, approach, values, experience design and agreements. That can be super scary for people running these groups. That’s why many “professional” groups never dip into the personal side.

On the other hand, my experience with Sandbox has shown that once you have invested several years into friendships and deep relationships (without any expectations to working together), collaborations come easily. So going from being to working seems easier than going from working to being.

Should there be a priority what matters most?

I keep coming back to this question: in groups that have both elements, should there be an innate prioritization in this? From my side it seems clear that relationships are at the core and they enable everything else. The best work happens when we do it with people that we trust. But do we actually have the patience and commitment to prioritize relationships before outcomes?

Groups who are only about “being together” are a tough sell

  • I have found that it’s much easier to convince someone about the value of a group if it’s dedicated to doing or learning: the outcome is clearer, more tangible, more short-term.
  • This is a manifestation of our society’s priorities and our capitalistic need for productivity and short-term results. If we spend time together, we want outcomes. At work we spend most of our time in groups dedicated to doing (teams).
  • On the flip side, it’s harder to convince someone to long-term invest into a group focused around being, because there are few outwardly signs of success. Groups focused solely around being need a long time to build up value (which then comes in very intangible forms like trust, belonging, psychological safety, psychological wellbeing, emotional support, etc). In today’s hurried world where everything is about visible ROI, that feels like a huge luxury that many can’t afford.
  • The reason why people show up in the first place is different, however, from why they keep coming back.

There is a big opportunity to build groups who prioritize being together

  • In contrast to what “sells” and society’s outwardly needs, I see the biggest opportunity in creating meaningful circles dedicated to being and relating.
  • Our society’s relentless focus on doing makes it extremely stressful for many people due to its economic pressures, speed, instability and required flexibility. What spaces help us rebalance from that? Where are the spaces where we can simply be? What are our spaces for personal stuff, emotional stuff, the at first glance unproductive stuff? Where are the groups that simply help us stay healthy, kind, loving humans? Questions of being haven’t gone away, simply because we have dedicated all our time to questions of doing. Simply because we want to be productive, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be loved and cared for.
  • Many people are talking about building “Communities of Practice” (groups dedicated to learning), but I sense what we need even more are “Communities of Care” (a beautiful term I first heard from my friend Michel Bachmann).

What’s the right balance?

I personally feel quite strongly that the being part should be prioritized, yet I keep receiving feedback that a balanced mix of both is what creates healthy and meaningful communities. What do you think? I’d be so curious to hear your perspectives!