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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Mar 12, 2021


Community really matters, but can be hard to build when we’re in a hurry. In this episode we discuss the single best question to build community (at least the best I’ve come across!).



Hello and welcome to episode 109 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we discuss the single best question to build community.

I’ve spoken before about five things research indicates are difficult to build when we’re not all in the same place at the same time. They are:

  1. Community

  2. Collaboration

  3. Culture

  4. Climate

  5. Capability

Today we’re focusing on the first one - community. Building community in our teams and organisations is extremely important, both from an employee experience perspective, but also for performance. This is true whether you are currently working remotely, are back in the office or, more likely, some mix of the two. 

The catch now is that we are often needing to build community and connection at speed. Research shows us that the shift to online meetings has resulted in more meetings with more participants per meeting, but shorter meeting times. You’re also far less likely to have all of your team in the same place at the same time, so the opportunities to build connections are fewer and further in between. We therefore need to be intentional about building community. We can no longer leave such a central part of workplace culture to chance now that the proverbial water-cooler discussions have all but disappeared.

Community is about what we have in common - that’s where the word comes from. It’s about shared characteristics, beliefs and interests. We build community when people share things about themselves with each other. As leaders, we want to give people a chance to learn what they have in common. This can be challenging though. We want people to be personal, but also to feel safe. We don’t want people to feel as if they’re being forced to share too much at work. But it also needs to be inclusive. If you ask people to talk about their children or a favourite pet, what happens for the people who have neither? 

I was working with a team recently, and one of the members shared about how hard it was in that team if you weren’t into sport, as most of the non-work conversations would revolve around football. What was a well intentioned effort to build community by talking about something non-work related left several team members feeling out of place.

As a result, I’m sure you have come across some great ‘get to know you’ questions. Here are a few that I think are quite good:

  • What career did you want to have when you were a child?

  • What's one thing about you that surprises people?

  • What’s something you want to become an expert in?

  • What qualities do you value in friends?

As I said, these are all quite good questions, but you can only ask them once. If you keep asking about dream jobs as a child people will check out of the conversation, or think that you’re not listening to them in the first place.

Recently I came across what I think is the single best question to build community. As is often the case, it’s not my idea - a participant shared it during a workshop about building trust in a remote context.

In every team meeting they would ask each person to provide a five star recommendation. What is one thing that they would recommend to others? Now, importantly, the recommendation can be for anything. It can be a recipe, a car, an event, a restaurant, some music, a book, a holiday destination, a product - the options are almost endless. The question works so well because it’s 100% inclusive, and it’s what I would call evergreen - you can ask it every week and people can come up with something new to recommend. Plus, it’s interesting to hear people answer the question. After all, who doesn’t love a new five star recommendation?

So - remember the question - What is your five star recommendation? I would love to hear how you go using it in an upcoming meeting - I’m planning to use it on Monday.

Speaking of five star recommendations, if you’re enjoying the podcast, how about providing a rating and review? It really does make a difference in helping people to find the podcast. 

If this episode interested you, then our upcoming webinar on (Re)Building Trust will also be worth joining. Go to the Leadership.Today website to sign up, or you can watch a recording after 19th March via Leadership Today On-Demand. There are links in the show notes. Have a great week.