Most people associate their work with problem-fixing. Very few people view their work as making a contribution to a stronger and better community. New products are developed to solve problems, small and big. New systems are implemented and services are launched to take care of people’s problems. We extend ourselves, think hard and work late hours to fix the problem. Our work satisfaction is consequently dependent on how well we were able to fix the problem. People and companies are generally measured by and valued for how well they can make problems disappear … or give the impression that they do.

Important questions to reflect on

It is a nice feeling if we could help a customer to solve his problem; it is a nice feeling if the boss or our colleagues compliment us for fixing the problems and alleviating the crisis … for a limited period of time. At some point, however, we might start asking ourselves some questions: Is it all there is to life … to solve the problems of impatient customers and bosses? Are the few times that a person experiences genuine appreciation making up for the ever-increasing demand to satisfy the compulsive and unreasonable desires of people who clearly are only interested in what someone can do for them and not the slightest bit in who he or she is? I think the answer is ‘no’, and that we need to aspire to more.

Helping your neighbour in the old days

Helping to fix the problem of a neighbour in the old days when community life on the farms and in neigbourhoods was still strong and intimate, was a different matter. It was not so much to fix the problem as it was to help each other. There will always be problems, but to experience the bond between caring people is precious and of much greater value than any amount of money that can buy all kinds of solutions. Can we only dream of those days, rich of stories of how people cared for and supported each other as part and parcel of their daily work and the way they lived? That would be the irresponsible and lazy option. Instead we need to apply ourselves to the creation of what is meaningful and practical in a 21st century world.

Buiding a foundation of trust for healthy businesses

From a pure business perspective nothing makes as much sense as building a foundation of trust. To quote Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen (in their book The Renaissance Society): ‘Any society will do better and thrive if people can trust one another, exchange products without too much paperwork, and talk freely to their friends and neighbours. If you trust other people, life becomes easier and happier.’ We can better build trust at work by shifting our focus from problem-seeking, problem-analysing and problem–fixing, as if it constitutes all of work, to building the kind of community we would love to have as a work community. It is a matter of what needs to be prioritised: reacting to the environment or building up people’s resilience and trust to be able to respond effectively and confidently to the market? Much of the ‘work’ that used to be done only by schools, neighbourhoods and church communities, now also needs to be done in the work organisation to restore relationships and trust in our society. Urbanisation, mobility, technology and the explosion of information on the internet, to name a few factors, left us with a very complex and fragmented world. In whatever sphere of work we find ourselves, the demand is to think more holistically and take on more responsibility to teach and live a core set of values to support a meaningful cause.

Problems multiply to the degree that people don’t trust each other. The more we make people see themselves as nothing more than filling a role or position at a certain organisational level and with certain limited privilidges and obligations, the more we stifle their potential contributions to create a healthy, trusting and caring community. Anxiety, suspicion, demotivation and professional jealously – all features of an impersonal  fear-based or don’t-care social context – are responsible for much of the things that go wrong and become problems to fix. If we invite people – and mean it –  to participate fully as members of a caring work community with high standards of conduct and teamwork, we are on a different path.

How to become a community builder at work

In your own small way you help to build community (and trust) at work by –

  • Appreciating, respecting and showing interest in others for who they are as fellow human beings, not only for what they do
  • Be more personal and less business-like in your interactions with others
  • Open yourself to differences in people – knowing that at heart we have the same type of concerns, fears and dreams
  • Dare to be different when everybody seems to ignore the fact that a colleague is hurting due to what has happened or been said – show empathy
  • Take the initiative to lead people in a discussion about the deeper values that drive some behaviours that sometimes create tension and conflict
  • Be authentic and make the effort to speak your mind in a respectful way
  • ‘Listen’ for what people don’t say but feel strongly about and recognise their feelings as real
  • Look for the good in others and make your appreciation vocal
  • Never give up on people, saying ‘they will never change’
  • Be open to and invite others’ feedback to improve your relationships
  • Keep on looking until you find a positive perspective that everyone will agree with – something that touches the deeper feelings in people – feelings of meaning and gratitude
  • Be an advocate for the highest ethical standards in the organisation
  • Inspired by your beliefs, find love and care for others in your heart
  • Be willing to forgive and to say ‘sorry’
  • As a leader, tell inspiring stories that highlights the core values in the organisation and make sure you set a credible example of how to believe in them and to live them

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg