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  • Writer's pictureShannon Lantzy

Community is a construct; consider seeding one

To do something new, try creating a community.

I used to work almost exclusively with local colleagues and clients. Marylanders felt different from Virginians (and the DC residents were just oddballs*). A colleague's location in the DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) region did not feel like a "connection." During COVID and after two years of exclusively remote work, predominately with people who lived at least five hours away from me, I became used to working in a community of people who lived very far away. Now, I am starting to work with a lot of local people again. And I feel a kinship that wasn't there before. "Oh, you're from Northern Virginia? I'm in Maryland. We're practically neighbors!"

Brains and emotions are weird. Humans are wired to connect to other humans, form social groups, and extend themselves in support of other people from within the group. When entering a new business, transforming an old one, or matrixing employees to a new cause, leaders often ask for "extra" from employees. Creating a community is one way to motivate change.

At Booz Allen, a relatively junior leader started a "Women in Data Science" community that grew to huge membership and great offerings for growth and learning. I admit, I didn't believe it would be a success but a few tenacious members made it an institutional mainstay. Together with colleagues, I started a Secure Connected Health community and cross-functional practice that brought together disparate parts of the organization (marketing, technical capabilities, leadership) to the common cause of cybersecurity in the health sector. Siemens "Healthineers" is a community brand that seems to bring pride to its members. These groups took on a life of their own, having become self-reinforcing centers of excellence.

If you need to do something new across a broad set of business verticals, you don't always have to reorg. Start a cross-functional community and give early career professionals access to executive leadership input, and wonderful things can happen organically, without much investment.

~Shannon, the Optimistic Optimizer

* My brother lived in DC and I have lived in both Virgina and offense intended.


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