Why companies are the new social communities and why their members develop a sense of belonging
(This post has originally been written in English)
For the first time in my life I feel I belong to a group.
And this group is my company.
Is not the first time I am part of a group, but it is the first time I belong to a group where we all work for the same goal.
Being an anthropologist by nature (and by study) I am particularly fascinated by the dynamics of social groups. A group is a community, a number of people that know each other and who interact with each other on a regular basis. As described in this blog, “A community is a social structure that shares personal values, cultural values, business goals, attitudes, or a world view. What binds it is a community culture of social rules and group dynamics that identify members.”
Of course not all of us love to stay in goups. Someone might be more solitary and prefer to spend time alone, someone more outgoing and prefer to have hundreds of friends, but as human beings we all need to feel that we belong to a community, even a tiny one. As human beings we need to be in the middle of dynamics, we need to share goals with other people and work together in the same direction. The group can’t be too small, because we need different people to interact with since each of them can meet some of our needs. Maybe someone is very down to earth and able to solve practical issues very well. Someone might be very good at listening without judging, someone might be very good at leading, someone might be very good counsellor…
We need to belong; this is a strong belief of mine. We might stay alone for some time, and indeed I do enjoy spending time with myself when I am looking for a reconnection with my soul. But I know that we have a deep need of belonging.
If we look back at how humanity was hundreds of years ago we see a totally different model. We see that we were living in small communities. If we had lived in one of these small communities we would have had brothers and sisters to share life, friends to have fun with, parents to protect us, grandparents to guide us with their wisdom, a partner to share a project for life, aunts and uncles to listen to us when we had problems, some religious guide to connect us with our spirituality and so on. We would have had a variety of people, and thus a variety of relationships. The complexity of this system would have given us the possibility to meet all our needs, and get what we need from different people: support from someone, inspiration from someone else, friendship and love from someone else. None of them would have had the full responsibility of taking care of us or making us happy, but the whole community would have provided care and love for all the members.
Ok, maybe I have seen too many cartoons and this picture is rather utopic. But small villages existed all over the world and, although many other problems existed, isolation, loneliness and alienation were not part of them.
We don’t have these communities anymore. Actually, in some parts of China, India, Africa, South America, Middle East and other regions of Earth people live in groups. In some small villages in my country (Italy) and some other European countries people do as well. But generally speaking in the European and North American society we are very often on our own. Most of us left our families to study abroad, or to get a job abroad, and very often we live in big cities surrounded by millions of people but none of them care about us nor do we care about them. We don’t belong in the city we live in, and rarely someone have a sense of belonging to his company. The only community we belong to is often our family. If our family is made of our partner only, our community is very tiny, and often is not able to meet the range of all our needs. We expect our family (namely our significant other) to meet all our emotional needs. Hundreds of years ago we had these needs met by a complex system of people, a community. Now we expect all of this from one or two people. Relationships get more and more stressful because we have huge expectations and we put a lot of responsibility on the other person. But the real problem is that humans are made to be in community. It seems to me that the intelligence that created the universe and the creatures in it made them to stay in groups.
We can’t go back in time and we can’t get the same social organization that we had hundred years ago. We don’t have to worship the past either because it was not heaven, I am sure. But we do have to keep in mind our human needs. If living in a community is the best way to meet most of our needs at one, we have to look for ways to recreate the same sense of community in other ways.
I believe companies can nowadays be the new communities. Moreover, companies can pull people together not only because they were born in the same village as it happened in the past, nor because they simply happen to be part of the same family. Companies recreate the same sense of community by pulling together people who share values and objectives. And this strengthen the bond between the members even more than living in the same village. I was lucky enough to become part of such a company. And for the first time I experience what it means to be part of a community that share values and goals. I have friends, people with whom I can share my ideas, people who inspire me, people to have lunch together, people to share the stress even when stress rises. This is what happens in the best communities, and this is where I want to belong.