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How to Build Community at Work: Expert Advice From Danika Patel
Community building in the workplace has many rewards. From fostering belonging to breaking down siloes, there are many benefits to workplace communities that have positive long-lasting impacts for your business.
Our resident community building expert, Danika Patel, knows this better than anyone. She’s seen first hand how our community, Guider People Network (GPN), brings people together to share experiences, learn from one another and grow.
Drawing on her experience starting the GPN from scratch and growing it into a thriving learning community, she shares her expert insights to help you foster communities in your organisation.
📖 Find out more in our guide: the 4 stages of building a successful membership community 📖
How can I build a community at work?
Whether you’re a community manager or a volunteer, there are many ways that you can build community at work. For both virtual community building and in-person, we have the tips you need to succeed!
With years of experience bringing together professionals across Learning and Development and Diversity and Inclusion with the GPN, Danika gives us her top tips.
What do you need for a strong community?
First up, it’s important to understand what makes a strong community. For Danika, there are three essentials that you need:
This is key. When you bring people together to share and learn together, you need to build trust. This is not just in you as the organiser but across the whole group. In the GPN, Danika is connecting professionals from across industries and organisations that need to know it’s a safe place to share openly and with honesty.
Another big factor, especially for growing a community, is identifying your champions. These are the people you can trust to give you feedback that will support your community as it grows. Identifying dedicated people that are bought in to what you’re doing is a great way to support your efforts.
This one might sound strange, you need to have community to build community, but it means that you need your community to be led by itself, for itself. From the start, you need to make decisions together and not dictate what people need. Ensuring your community is run by the people it’s for means that, from day 1, it’s a genuine community.
What are the top things you do to foster community?
In order to build trust, identify champions and create community, there are 3 key things that Danika’s learned to do. These are important in all different kinds of community, from Employee Resource Groups to group mentoring. These are:
Hold a pre-joining call
This is your opportunity to explain the purpose of your community, how it’s run and how to act when you’re together. This ensures trust and psychological safety are built from the start.
It’s also an opportunity to make sure everyone is aligned. As Danika explains: “I always tell people, it’s a community where you learn but where you want to give too. If that’s not what they want to do then it’s better to know that now.”
Send personalised messages ⚡️
If you’re building your community by personally inviting people to join, then remember to use personalised messages. To get people’s attention, try reading their LinkedIn posts and look at what they share. This way you can start conversations about what they’re interested in and talk to them about that instead of using a generic message.
Focus on quality over quantity
When building a community from scratch, remember that it’s all about quality over quantity. Having less, really engaged people that attend sessions regularly and actively contribute is much more important than having a lot of people in the group that don’t say anything.
What do you wish that you’d known before starting the Guider People Network?
The first thing Danika wishes she’d known is that it requires full time dedication. Building a community from scratch is harder than you think it’s going to be! But with practice, it gets easier and the rewards make the hard work all worthwhile.
She says: “You have to be able to eloquently explain why you’re doing this and be honest about the value that you’re getting from it too.” This will help you find new members that are genuine in their interest in what you’re doing.
She also reminds us that keeping relationships can be challenging too: “The key is to have different avenues to keep in touch with people and give the most value. We’ve tried Slack and LinkedIn, but the best way to engage people is always on a call.”
This means it can be hard to keep engagement going in between sessions. Which is another blocker, as you can only run so many sessions before needing more resources. Remember though, this is a challenge for most people. Focus on building quality when the community is together, when they find value in it then they’ll keep coming back.
What would you say is the biggest benefit of community at work?
The benefits of communities are vast. In the workplace, Danika says, “It’s the company’s job to make the work environment safe and make everyone feel like they have a nice place to come and work. That’s not on the individual. A community can make you feel safe to bring your whole self to work.”
If people feel more comfortable then that leads them to staying in the company and feeling more fulfilled, which is great for talent development and retention – key pain points for many organisations.
The biggest benefit of a community like the GPN is the number of different industries and job roles that are represented. In a lot of sectors people can become siloed. Communities break this down and widen perspectives.
As Danika says: “You find peace in knowing other people are having the same problems as you. Even big global companies will still have the same problems.”
Which brings us to our final point, feeling part of a community is an essential part of feeling connected and supported, through whatever challenges you face. There are many ways to build a community at work, whichever method you choose we hope this top tips will help you on your journey.
If you’re building communities, whether through Employee Resource Groups or mentoring programs, we’re here to help. Chat to our mentoring guides to find out more.