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Building a sense of community in your organisation

As a finalist in this year’s Best Places to Work survey, last month I was asked to represent Intergen and participate in a session that looked at how employers can build a sense of community in their organisation.

Some interesting points were raised during the session, and some thought-provoking questions were asked. But the more I have thought about this subsequently, the harder it is for me to put my finger on a definitive answer. If you asked me outright just what it is that we do that creates a strong sense of community within Intergen, I couldn’t tell you.

This isn’t because Intergen doesn’t have a strong sense of a community – far from it – but, rather, because it is the intangible stuff that brings this about, and not the result of concerted effort or tangible enticements.

That’s not to say that concerted effort isn’t required. Or that benefits, perks and attention to employee satisfaction within your organisation play no part in creating a sense of community.  All these things are extremely important. But they don’t guarantee or even add up to a sense of community. You can have the strongest HR policies in the world and the most well-rounded and attractive packages on offer, and still not have an abiding sense of community.

And that’s because, for the most part, community is organic. You can create reasonable guidelines and parameters in an organisation, but you can’t dictate to or control the community that forms within it.

If there’s one concrete factor I could identify that really does seem to contribute to the ongoing sense of community within Intergen, it’s our hiring policy. In taking time during the recruitment process to make sure we’re getting the right cultural fit – as well as the right skills for the job at hand – the end result is a pool of like-minded and talented people who enjoy working together. But when I say like-minded, I don’t mean that they are all chips off the same block. Part of what makes the Intergen community so enduring and vibrant is its diversity.

And if people like working together, if there is mutual respect for what a person does, and if a work hard play hard ethos is encouraged, it stands to reason that a workplace community is forged that extends beyond the four walls of the organisation.

Having said all this, there are certainly important contributing factors like open plan offices, a reasonably flat organisational structure, and the role the intranet plays. And then there’s the Social Club, sports teams and other interest groups, to name but a few of the employee-driven things that go on with Intergen.

We employ clever people and there is a culture of respect amongst peers. It’s great to see what ex-Intergenites go on to do, the networks and communities they form, and often the other ex-Intergenites they team up with along the way. And then there’s staff members who go on to marry (although there has only been one instance of this in Intergen’s history), and family members working happily together (and we have several instances of this).

At the end of the day, though, the answer to the question - how do you build a sense of community in your organisation? – is a bit like trying to create a blueprint for company culture. You can get part of the way there, but there’s always a secret ingredient (or several) that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Posted by: Tony Stewart, Intergen Group CEO | 16 June 2008

Tags: Best Places to Work, Community

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