Does Your Company Feel Like a Community?

Last Updated Oct 17, 2008 9:07 AM EDT

The Bambara are the main farming tribe in Mali. They have great respect for words, which are like gods to them. Words, like gods, can make anything happen. So a wise elder will not speak much.

So when the elder decided to speak, it was a surprise. He asked why we thought respect for the individual was so important.

Well, of course respect for the individual is important -- regardless of faith, race or gender, respect for their need for work-life balance. But all of this was lost on the elder. All he saw was a recipe for individualism, politics and strife.

"What about respect for the community?" He asked. "Without a strong community, the individual is finished."

Many of the highest performing organisations have a sense of mission which reaches well beyond the narrow interests of respect for the individual.

The church and the army are two established examples of organisations which foster an extraordinary sense of commitment to the community. Some private sector organisations achieve similar sense of mission, especially in their early days.

A few examples show how private organisations can achieve outstanding results through a strong mission which engenders a very strong sense of community and belonging:

  • McKinsey (the firm) sets standards which make its staff believe that they are part of a global elite. This engenders commitment, performance and arrogance in roughly equal proportions.
  • Google, at least in its early days, went beyond seeking profits to wanting to change the world (the profits flowed through later anyway).
  • Teach First is a top ten UK graduate recruiter which gets exceptional graduates to teach in challenging schools for two years at the start of their careers.
Look at your own organisation. Are people working for themselves or for the greater good of the organisation and its mission? Have you got an organisation which merits respect?

You may not have the luxury of a "change the world" vision. But if you can show that your team is making a difference and doing more than earning a wage, you will create a sense of respect, community and commitment which will show in everyone's performance.

(Photo: Pulverizer_13, CC2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership