What does “community” even mean?

Hint: It’s more than just a buzzword.

“Community” has become a corporate buzzword many leaders tout to describe their organization’s culture. “We’re community-driven.” “We play a big part in the community.” “Our employees help build a strong internal community.” But what does “community” really mean? As a company leader, I recently reflected on this term and what it means to me, my company and the city in which we live and work.

The collective has to agree to be a community.

I can’t wave my magic CEO wand and force our employees to be a community. Participants have to agree to it. That starts with buying into a few assumptions. First: Everyone must agree they’re better together than alone. Second: Everyone must contribute.

To be successful, I believe communities must have these qualities: inclusivity, trust, shared beliefs and values, and a willingness to make sacrifices. I’m proud to say that, at Bader Rutter, we’re hitting those key tenets. Here are four ways in which community can be built within an organization:

If it’s a community, there’s collaboration.

Community inherently implies collaboration, with the firm belief that collaboration leads to better work and a stronger community. Eighteen months ago, our agency restructured into ecosystems, or smaller working teams dedicated to specific clients. Through more dedicated teams, our functions are able to work closer together than ever before. These teams meet daily to determine priorities and push work forward. As a result of this close collaboration, we’ve seen not only better work but more connected teams.

Communities are built on shared interests.

As much as I’d like to believe our employees’ love of Bader Rutter is the main reason for our tightknit community, I know we’ve built it through shared interests. I’ve found it is important to give employees an opportunity to connect in non-work-related ways. At BR, we have a variety of clubs and groups that meet outside of working hours. From softball, margarita club and game night, to book club, bowling and everything in between, there are many ways for employees to connect over their shared interests.

Communication is key.

A lack of communication from leadership can stunt communities. Thriving communities rely on information about what’s happening within their organization to stay connected and productive. Back in March, when the pandemic first began, I started sending daily agency emails and videos to keep our teams up to date. It’s also important to have more informal communications. At BR, we use a private Facebook group and live messaging through Microsoft Teams to stay connected. These real-time modes of communication set us up for success when we transitioned to a virtual working environment. Regardless of the mode, communication is key to keep communities informed and at ease.

Build within and give back.

It’s important for communities to have the opportunity to come together and celebrate, even the small things. Through holiday parties, quarterly agency update sessions, new business celebrations and mentoring opportunities, our teams gather as a collective. But as much as it’s important to build community within, it’s also important to give back and build the community in which we live and work.

When Bader Rutter moved downtown from the suburbs, we knew we had to partner with the Milwaukee community. As a result, we’ve become involved in local organizations like the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Besides monetary donations, we also give employees the opportunity to give back in their own way through a BR-funded service day.

While communities take many shapes and forms, their identity comes down to the people, personal connections, trust and shared missions that make them stick together. For example, at BR, many of our employees are friends. They support one another, lend a helping hand when needed and rally to accomplish bigger things.

I challenge other leaders to think differently about what community means.

I encourage other leaders to stop and think about what makes a successful community in their eyes. This reflection just might change your approach to leadership. What does “community” mean to you? I’d love to hear how community is reflected in your life and work.

About the Author

Jeff Young is CEO and President of Bader Rutter. At his core, he is a builder with a passion for helping clients grow their businesses and brands. In fact, he has been helping build Bader Rutter for the past 30 years. Tireless problem solving is a hallmark of Jeff; and his belief is that the closer we are to the clients’ customer, the smarter we can be on their behalf.