Community, a Human Experience

If there is one constant in my life it is that the human experience has always fascinated me. People intrigue me.  I don’t mean this facetiously.  Through my 42 years of life I have learned a lot about people, personally and professionally as well as intentionally and unintentionally.

When I was in college working towards my nursing degree I also did a lot of course work in Criminal Justice and Psychology. Back then it was because I was going to be a nurse first and use nursing to work my way through law school. The goal, to never be out of a job, but deep down it was because both fields allowed me to work with people where they were at. To help them I HAD to understand who they were and how they got there… and then help them get to where they wanted to be.  It’s my life purpose I realized a few years ago.

Today, I want to focus on human interaction, professionally. More to the point what it means to work in an environment where a true community has been created and how the “threat of invasion” from an outside force proves the existence of that community.


Essential Elements of a Community

To be honest, I had never really thought about a community in the workplace. It isn’t that I didn’t think they existed, I just never really thought about it until recently based on an experience.

Just to cover the bases, let’s talk about what it takes to create a community. There has been considerable research done on this topic, what brings people together. It appears as though there has been only one theory that has been able to stand the test of time. The theory is called “Sense of Community.”

This theory was formed by two social psychologists, McMillan and Chavis in 1986. Their theory can be described in one sentence,

 “Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together (McMillan, 1976).”

They go on to describe the four factors that contribute to a sense of community.

How about if we take a closer look at each of these factors to see how you can use them to make your community as healthy as possible.

You may already have the starts of a community in your workplace. While you read through the psychological factors I request that you think about the most successful community you are a part of. Does that community have these factors?


Membership is the feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness. It includes five attributes:

  • Boundaries– How do people become members and what are the boundaries keeping others out
  • Emotional safety – By building boundaries and including the right people, you create trust and a feeling of safety
  • A sense of belonging and identification– Members must feel like they fit in and that this is “their community”
  • Personal investment– If members contribute or make sacrifices to the community, it enhances their sense of community
  • A common symbol system – Sharing a symbol like a sports team jersey or gang colors creates a sense of community

In other words, it is important to not just invite anyone and everyone to your community. Think about what you want your community to be about and who would make your community better. Make sure that anyone who joins is going to be a good fit.

By setting boundaries to getting into a community, you make members feel special and create a higher level of trust.


The second element is influence, or a sense of mattering. It has to work both ways, with members feeling like they have influence over the community and the community having influence over the members

Influence also speaks to the concept of giving first before asking for anything. The theory states that:

“People who acknowledge that others’ needs, values, and opinions matter to them are often the most influential group members, while those who always push to influence, try to dominate others, and ignore the wishes and opinions of others are often the least powerful members.”

Create an environment in your community where members feel like they have a say in what happens.

Each member should know that someone is listening, no matter what, even if it’s just the community manager.

And for a community to have influence over its members, it simply has to become a place that they care about. It has to provide them with value that they don’t want to lose.

Integration and Fulfillment of Needs

This essentially means that by joining a community a member gets what they hoped to get by joining. It reinforces the idea that your community, like any other product, needs to solve a problem for its members in order to make it worth their time and contribution.

This could be looked at as a “reward,” for being part of the community. This can be as concrete as knowing that when you need a question answered that there is a person in the community that will get that answer for you. Or it could be an intangible reward such as a feeling of belonging, a support network, inspiration, thoughtful conversation, knowing that someone has your back, etc.  

Members need to feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community in order to continue to contribute.

Shared Emotional Connection

All healthy communities have a story.  Members will have a history of experiences together and the belief that there will be more experiences together in the future.

McMillan & Chavis provide an example:

“This is the feeling one sees in farmers’ faces as they talk about their home place, their land, and their families; it is the sense of family that Jews feel when they read The Source by James Michener (1965).”

These experiences form a long lasting, emotional connection. That’s why a community that goes through a crisis often comes out much stronger because they’ve now shared a difficult situation, forging a strong emotional bond amongst members.

This factor is believed to be the “definitive element for true community”.

Curious to see where your community is at; click here for a quantitative analysis.

I am always interested in your feedback and would love to hear about your community and how it came into being, how you have rallied to protect against an invasion/threat.


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