Curating Community Through Collaborative Space

Curating Community Through Collaborative Space

The following is a case study.

Organization: Roam Innovative Workplace

Size: 40

Industry: Co-Working & Meeting Space

Challenge: Creating a collaborative, dynamic workplace that fosters community

We all want a productive environment in which to do our work.  Agile workplaces—and agile people— thrive in a community-driven environment. Yet for most, the challenge remains: How do we effectively create that community?

When I was preparing to launch LDR21, I was looking for a place to work that was a quieter alternative to a coffee shop. I needed to be around the energy of productive people, required a quiet space to take calls, and didn’t want every ounce of me to smell like coffee at the end of a day. I knew about co-working spaces, but none of the known leaders in metropolitan areas suited me. Those spaces offer great services, but I wanted more than mail delivery and free coffee. 

By nature, I enjoy people and conversations. I want to find new and interesting people to talk to and learn from. It’s one of the reasons the open way is so appealing to me: it’s community-driven. So when I found Roam and took my first tour, I was hooked immediately. The staff welcomed me with smiles, open arms, laughter, and an immediate sense of belonging. I didn’t even sleep on it; I signed us up and immediately felt at home (we even joke that I’m part of their team because I talk them up so much). But honestly, isn’t that what the support of a community is about?

Roam Innovative Workplace is based in the Atlanta, GA, market and has been scaling rather nicely over the last couple of years. Their approach to coworking is different than most other companies in their industry. They wanted to reimagine collaborative, inclusive space. They don’t simply offer private offices and open coworking space; they also provide meeting space for the business community. And, frankly, it is how they “do community” that is their biggest difference.

In this case study, I want to explain Roam’s approach to a truly communal, collaborative space. Then I’ll address how you can translate that approach into strategies for reimagining your own workplace so it’s more community-oriented.

Partnering through community

I sat down with Corey Wardell, General Manager, and Chad Kimberlin, Director of Operations, both of whom I’ve come to know quite well. I wanted to know how they were carving out a niche within a niche market—and in an exploding industry.

Roam’s, tagline is “partners in the stories of accomplished dreams.” Their mission is to champion connections in a way that allows their community to grow together in knowledge and ability for the good of all. This is particularly evident in how they care for their members: Taking the time to listen to who they are and what they’re doing is only one of the many steps in caring for those in community. Chad simply stated, “We care about the success of our members. We want you to win.”

Several community-oriented principles guide Roam’s approach to building workplaces:

  • Be engaged
  • Create value
  • Be intentional
  • Be purposeful and  impactful
  • Initiate creativity
  • Be generous and empower those in your community

As Corey told me: “I think community can just get thrown out and becomes a buzzword. But, I think when you put the meat behind it—it’s actually incredibly valuable.”

Yes, community is incredibly valuable—but many of us don’t know how to incorporate that into our workplace. Let’s take a look at four ways we can curate community in the workplace: through access, through support, through collaboration, and through sharing.

Why community?

We all have an innate need to be part of something bigger than ourselves; it’s how we’re hardwired. Community allows us to find that place we can belong and to which we can really contribute, and this leads to our feeling valued and purposeful. Understanding the value of our contributions—and the ways those contributions affect the ecosystems of which we’re all a part—creates a freedom and sense of ownership in all areas of our work. 

As long as humans have been recording our history, we’ve had examples of community to learn about and emulate. We all have heard the maxim ”It takes a village to raise a child”—and so it did. Everyone in community has a job, a responsibility, in caring for each other. That’s always been the case. It may have looked like hunting for food, caring for children, harvesting fields together, or another task that helped everyone and everything work together towards a greater good.

Over time, our communities transitioned. Today, even though we’re banding together for more than just our survival needs, we are in great need of curating community one more again.

We need human connection, purpose, and value in our day to day interactions. And with digital transformation, we have the opportunity to create places of connection and valuable contribution, and to build societies together for successful futures.

Insight from Roam: “People just want to be connected and passionate about what they’re doing,” Corey told me. “We would really love to love to go to work and love to do what we do.” Roam’s job, he explained, is to create an environment for people to do their best work. It’s about an environment where you can be productive, you can focus, you can collaborate as you need to on your own terms. Roam recognizes that different people have different needs, so designing a workplace with a flexible framework is important. That framework has to include the right technology, seating arrangements, and even the right types of furniture. It’s all part of setting people up for success. Allowing people to work from home, while beneficial, can inadvertently create another issue: people not being productive. They need the environment, too, which is where coworking can come in to solve the real estate footprint and flexibility challenges.

Curate through access

In open organizations, we leverage open principles to create collaborative and inclusive environments. We seek to break down the barriers that would otherwise prevent knowledge sharing, communication, and the ability to collaborate. Removing barriers is part of providing access and support in the workplace.

The best place to start removing barriers is with access to information and ability to have open communication. By creating knowledge commons, best practice repositories, and open feedback practices, you can begin to remove silos and see an immediate increase in productivity and efficiency. If we want to build agile people, we must remove existing barriers for them to become agile. The barriers in the actual workspace can be the space itself, the tools and feedback mechanisms you use (or don’t use!), and the way you structure access to various resources.

Insight from Roam: As leaders in agile workplaces, we must help to remove barriers that prevent people from being innovative and creative, and from building new business. Roam understands that people need access to the right space, supplies, technology, support, and communication. In order for people to succeed, as employees or entrepreneurs, they must have access to resources and services to allow them to effectively do their jobs and succeed.

Curate through support

Asking people to show up on time, sit in a cubicle, and accomplish assigned tasks is not the way to go. It may have been the way for decades—but it isn’t conducive to how we work today. We have changed as a society; generational needs vary, and we operate in a global marketplace that demands constant evolution and improvement. 

Without your people, you couldn’t run your organization, deliver services, or build products. As a leader, your people’s needs must be at the forefront of your mind. It isn’t about knocking out a wish list (ping pong tables or hammocks for rest or play). It isn’t always about the best benefit packages. It is about understanding the needs—the levels of access and support required—and getting into the trenches to walk it out with 

So instead, let’s start with these questions:  What do they need to actually do their job? What information can I get them? What type support system do we have in place? How do I retain great talent? How do we build bridges to close gaps? What do they need to hear from me as a leader?

Insight from Roam: “The idea of community comes into place when we engage the members in our space, put ourselves in their shoes, understand their struggles, and walk it out with them” Corey explained to me. “Our question is always: How do we help them succeed?” For Roam, part of the answer is providing access to others who will help them with their work. That means connecting people to others across teams, or helping them collaborate to solve a problem. You can provide access and support by connecting others in the community. Get to know what your people need and what they are great at. Then you can create bridges across the community to get things done—come alongside people and help them succeed. We are all acting on common interests with common goals; leverage that to foster community authentically.

Curate through collaboration

As an extrovert, I need conversation to sustain me. I need to be around people to keep my energy up. But community is more than an energizing group of people; it’s the combined effect of collaboration, inclusion, and support from others that makes it what it is. (I can personally say that I’ve previously failed in my efforts simply because I didn’t have community or collaborative people around me.)

In other words, it’s the product of an entire ecosystem of relationships. Recently I defined an ecosystem as: a living, breathing network of people and organizational frameworks. It’s a network of various actors that interconnect to form the system in which your organization operates. The actors in any ecosystem—employees, partners, external stakeholders, customers, vendors, etc.—are mutually dependent on each other for our business health, growth, and success. No matter your industry or current workplace style, perhaps our takeaway here is that—in order to foster community—people come first.

Creating places for collaboration at inclusive tables will become the engine behind the community. And knowing how we contribute to the ecosystem as a whole will strengthen our engagement in the community. People, no matter their role in the ecosystem, need to know and understand their place and the value of their contribution to the system. Our ecosystems are micro-communities connected to other micro-communities that all merge into the larger community. Our interdependence must be an understood value in order to foster community. 

In order to have a healthy workplace, we need community. We need to feel comfortable, to feel supported, and to have a sense of adventure and connection to our work. We become extensions of each other who leverage positive intent in our interactions towards common goals. 

Insight from Roam: One of the greatest things about the Roam community is the ability to connect others. As Corey said to me:

“Since we invest in knowing our people—who they are, what they do, what their needs are—we are able to play the ‘Have you met _______?’ game. We love engaging with the members because we are picking each others brains. Not only do we enjoy collaborating with our community, and making collaborative connections, the diversity of thought that comes with inclusion is invaluable. It gives us a way to ask “What is working and what is not?” so we can provide great service to our members. But, it also lets us hear about new ways of doing things that allows us to build and create right alongside of our members in our community. We believe that our members become an extension of our brand and vice versa. When meetings our hosted here we become an extension of our clients brand. We support them and solve their immediate challenges as their business partner. It is the culture we promote—to foster collaborative community that is a true partnership.”

The way you do work, the workplace itself, has a massive impact on culture in an organization. Every day, the spaces Roam provides create creates entry points for people to engage and become a part of a larger community. So create a workplace model that allows for bringing all types of people together to do better work—together.

Curate through sharing

Transparency in leadership, and the workplace, can be about sharing our failures as much as our wins—communicating with others about what is or isn’t working. This level of transparency allows collaborative teams to come together to positively contribute, and to either celebrate with you or offer help during a challenge. Collaborative communities connect deeply over time over common sets of ideas, values, or goals. It becomes about all of us rather than some of us (or ourselves). 

With that sense of belonging we create in community, we are able to create places of trust that allow for us to connect at the human level and do life—and work—together. 

Insight from Roam: “We talk about partnering in accomplishing dreams,” Chad said to me. “We all celebrate your wins with you. So that’s the idea of community, right? We become your coworker. We become your colleague. We become the extension of your team. We are your team. And it’s my favorite part for sure—this positive contribution.” One of the most important aspects of community is being there for each other. If someone in your community—a member, staff, or external client—needs something, you’ll need to come together to support them and, if you can, provide a solution. Serving your community extends beyond the workplace and workweek. We become extensions of each other’s teams in this kind of environment. “Frequently, we will have someone come straight up to the front desk after a call to share about a new client they just won or another exciting piece of news,” Corey said.

It takes five

For me, the aspect community is vital to an open organization. But you can’t curate community without inclusivity. And great communities also don’t happen without transparency and collaboration. That’s why the presence of all five open principles (see the Appendix) are necessary for creating and sustaining a successful environment.

This content was originally published in The Open Organization Workbook (2018).

In The Open Organization Workbook, more than 25 managers, leaders, consultants, and other practitioners answer that question with their favorite tips for building organizations that are more transparent, inclusive, adaptable, collaborative, and communal. Download the book.

Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

Proof Openness Scales

Proof Openness Scales

Lessons from Slaloms successful growth prove that openness scales.

Recently I’ve had the immense pleasure of discovering Slalom, and I was fascinated to learn how they do open. Aaron Atkins and Shannon Heydt, both working in talent acquisition for Slalom, sat down with me to share challenges related to scalability—and explain how recruiting and talent management play a strong part in shaping company growth.

Slalom’s case is rich and illustrative. But to understand it, we must first understand scalability.

Scalability is the ability of something to adapt to increasing demands. Meeting your business demands starts with your people and frameworks far before you fulfill a service or product.

Scaling is also quite challenging. It can involve (literally) years of doing the hard work with a slower growth pattern and seemingly overnight an explosion of growth occurs to meet your business demands.

When this explosion occurs, workflows suddenly become inefficient. Talent management struggles to keep up with onboarding, retention, coaching, development, staffing appropriately, and so on. What worked last quarter will no longer support the ecosystem you’re facing today.

Scaling in the open

In open organizations, scaling requires a strong identity; successful scaling relies on who you are to carry you and your people through times of intense growth. I’m talking about your core ideas and values. And I don’t mean the wall art in the break room with the really cool font that reiterates your value statement.

Instead, your organization’s values, ideas, and frameworks should be heard and felt through all interactions modeled from top leadership to the new hire. It should be a living and breathing presence in the room because it is such an integral part of your culture and people.

If you were to build a foundation for a house with different size blocks and heights, the house would collapse as you began to place structural weight on it. One common misconception about open organizations is that they lack structure. To the contrary: in open organizations strong, obvious structures and frameworks set the flow for the ecosystem participants desire. In open organizations, however, structures don’t just allow you to run an effective and efficient organization, but also allow for the emergence self-leadership and autonomy while still meeting strategic goals.

How you address your processes, workflows, and frameworks can make or break you. But, most importantly, your communication strategy and execution will be paramount to your organizational success.

Let’s take a look at how an organization operating with an open mindset—like Slalom—is handling the challenges of scalability, within their value-driven ecosystem, and with intention.

Tipping point challenges

Founded in 2001, Slalom aims to do consulting differently. It has now landed on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work (2016). Founders wanted to do purposeful work—and to do it in a way that allowed them to maintain the ability to do great work for their clients.

This meant they had to break typical organizational frameworks and build an open culture. They’ve been experiencing rapid growth, and like all organizations amid waves of change, continue to experience both wins and challenges.

Slalom noted several challenges to tackle when they hit their tipping points: consistency across markets, people development, and communication. Their approach to scalability is to intentionally build a strong, sustainable ecosystem through recruiting, people development and feedback. They quickly learned that what worked for 80 consultants doesn’t apply to the more than 4,500 they now employ.

One thing that has propelled them forward is their cultural ecosystem.

Recruiting for culture

Slalom is intentional about who and how they hire. They seek a culture fit first.

What does that mean for them? For starters, it means:

  • experienced hires with different perspectives and a strong competency for feedback
  • talent acquisition based on relationship first (investing in getting to know a person as more than a resume)
  • looking for innovation tendencies, communication skills, coachability, knowledge and self-governance competencies

Leveraging people

Talent managers at Slalom have found that some people struggle with the responsibility of guiding their own career pathways. So they placed “Learning Leaders” in every market to support continuing education and to provide guidance and empowerment for career ownership.

Slalom encourages innovation and problem solving, which leads to a merit-based promotion system. Without the confines of a “set track to follow,” employees are free to fill gaps they see when they bring solutions to the table.

“We strive to create diversity for our culture,” says Atkins. “We can then use different mindsets to come together as a team and deliver the best solutions for our clients.”

Feedback loops and honest conversations

When an annual culture survey revealed that communication was not keeping up with growth, Slalom took the findings seriously. Leaders took to each market to discuss and ask for shared dialog.

As a result, an incredible number of 9,000 ideas emerged from all over the country. After filtering down the ideas to trends, passions, and strategic directions, Slalom had a strong base for their organizational direction based on feedback from their employees. They ask, listen and put feedback into action.

Slalom also upped its communication game in a world demanding digital and real-time feedback, launching a series of videos from each core leader to explain strategic objectives. By taking such a personal approach, they’ve closed gaps that can occur in both distributed workforces and those that have grown to a significant size. The practice uses transparency and human connection to engage employees.

Slalom has also integrated real-time feedback loops into weekly time submissions. Asking their people (in the moment) how things are going keeps the feedback fresh and real. Closing these gaps can increase retention and improve work efforts.

It isn’t easy

Scaling isn’t easy. Even with a strong ecosystem in place, one powered by clear values and vision, growth comes with a fair share of challenges.

However, investing in your ecosystem from the beginning will help lessen the growing pains. Create strong structures for your people to operate. Leverage the wealth of talent within your people. Communicate with transparency and open real-time feedback loops to smooth transitions. Remain agile, and you’ll find the right sustainable business models that work for you.

This article was originally published at opensource.com.

For more case studies, download The Open Organization Workbook

Download the book

Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

Why Everyone In Community Is A Teacher

Why Everyone In Community Is A Teacher

I’ve had several online conversations this morning that have led me to a new revelation. Everyone in community is a teacher.

Community. It likely means something different to each person who reads the word. I would say it is the people we are in relationship with – those we do life with – and this can be in business, strangers you encounter at the store, or your group of besties.

Here is the reason for my theory.

I’ve been coaching and developing people for the last decade. I teach or instruct others by guiding and encouraging them with transformative methodologies. Mostly, my work is based on the knowledge I’ve aquired through my own experience. But let me be very clear, I don’t have it all worked out yet. Not even close.

Life is a journey. And, even as we become more equipped and empowered we still have a journey to take. We hit high points, we encounter low points. We plateau. It’s this beautiful way the Universe teaches us how-to adjust, dig in for more of life, and have the capacity to do so.

Here is my point – as I’m walking out life making adjustments and equipping people to do the same, I find that they teach me new perspectives and often are the reminders I need in my own life.

What? You think an expert has it all figured out?! No. In fact, if they tell you they do just run!

If we stop to learn from our conversations and interactions, I believe every person we encounter in community can foster our growth. Therefore, everyone can teach us something vital to our survival.

Take the time to listen, to be engaged, to be active in your encounters.

Be open to the nuggets of gold an interaction has for you personally.

Never be stingy with your love and empathy.

And never ever ever, discount what another human can show you about the world or yourself.

We can all be Agents of Change. All teachers and all students. All encouragers.

So who can you begin to learn from? Get out of your own head and engage with the world around you. It will be an eye opener, a perspective shift, and an accelerator to your growth and success.

The beautiful thing about community is that there is always someone who has gone before you to give you a hand. And, there is always someone looking to you to extend the hand for them. We are never alone in community.

Live boldly. Love greatly.

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