While Community is one of those wholehearted human experiences that is easy to spot but difficult to explain, Community Building – that is to say, the way to Community – is not so mysterious. It is a formal method that is rooted in group development theory. It relies on an easy to articulate system of interdependent principles. It uses a clearly structured facilitation technique. And it achieves its purpose as participants put into practice a set of straightforward disciplines, or guidelines, that promote authenticity in groups.
The reason that Community Building is difficult to explain is that many practitioners try to explain their private experience of Community and not the method to achieve it. That is perfectly understandable — as these experiences are often rich and rousing. However, private experiences don’t generalize well — especially intense ones. They tend to make little sense outside their context and usually create more confusion than understanding. With Community Building in particular, the private experiences of practitioners in the circle often mislead people to think of it as group therapy — which it is not. Community Building a thoroughgoing group intervention with a collective rather than individual goal. It is certainly true that many individual are profoundly affected by their Community Building experience — in a way that feels deeply therapeutic. However, this is not true of everyone. Nor does it need to be. The first goal of Community Building is to build a Community. And this can only be done together.
Community Building Stages
The developmental stages of Community Building are similar to those of other group dynamic theories — such as Tuckman’s ubiquitous forming, storming, norming, performing. What makes Community Building helpful to healthy group behavior is its emphasis on process (i.e., interaction) over task (i.e., transaction). But what makes it unique among similar methods is its stage of Emptiness — where participant learn to let go of the barriers to authentic communication.
A Group’s Group
Many people report experiencing a great deal of personal healing in the process of building Community. However, that does not make Community Building Workshops therapy. The experience is more aptly understood as therapy of the group than as group therapy. As such, greater gains are possible for those that remain together after a Community Building Workshop. Such groups continue to cultivate a lived sense of wholeness as they pursue their common purpose. And as a result they are able to managing ambiguity, conflict, and change with remarkable skill.
Community Centered Teams
At Chattanooga Endeavors, we use an adjusted version of the Hackman model of team effectiveness (2002). This model assumes effectiveness by the quality of products or services created, growing team capabilities over time, and satisfying team member needs. Conditions get established, whether deliberately or by happenstance, and groups unfold in their own idiosyncratic ways within those conditions. The operative conditions relate to: (1) whether the team is actually a team; (2) it’s organizing purpose; (3) how its members structure their work together; (4) the presence of institutional support; and (5) felicitous learning and development opportunities.
Like most strategies to boost team performance, however, the Hackman model does not include a specific method for establishing and maintaining healthy and productive relationships between team members. Therefore, productivity is periodically impaired and opportunities are lost as teams encounter unusual ambiguity, internal conflict, and market pressure.
At Chattanooga Endeavors, we address this deficiency by operating in the context of Community Building. This creates a culture of extraordinary respect and provides a set of tools that enable our team members to engage in open and honest communication — even in the midst of extreme stress.
Not only does this improve our teaming skills — it enables us to do so while promoting the social justice principles of human dignity, subsidiarity, restorative justice, and stewardship that our mission is founded on.