The Enigma of Sustained Momentum – Is Community Building The Answer?

I met a consultant friend for coffee the other day. We spoke about the challenge of sustaining the momentum that a group of individuals gathers at an event aimed at coming up with ‘solutions’ in the form of ‘projects’ to achieve ‘transformation’. In other words: designing and realizing a future that is different from the present. How can we ensure that what a collective of individuals creates, designs and commits to, becomes a reality? We have the evidence: dozens of flip chart sheets of project plans filled with tasks, deadlines and names of those that are committed to fulfilling all of the above; participants leaving fully re-energized and enthusiastic; and yet, just a few weeks after the event the momentum that was gained in ‘tackling’ the common task at hand threatens to slow down to a virtual standstill…

My initial answer to the question of how transformative momentum is sustained was the following: momentum cannot be sustained through internal or even less external interventions, but rather sustains itself if the platforms for collective conversations are present and accessible to all within the organisation at all times, i.e. if the organizational culture is one of learning in which knowledge sharing and change management strategies become second nature and all members/employees learn and practice this way of thinking and engaging with each other. So training in such methodologies could be a very useful way of making an organisation ‘fit’ for ongoing transformation in a complex and rapidly changing world.

I attended a Peter Block Community Building event last week that has inspired me greatly and also raised a new question: What if the transformation of large numbers of individuals within a system (i.e. its members being trained in various knowledge sharing and change management methodologies) does not lead to an organisational culture that is conducive to ongoing transformation? How and when does momentum last?

And I might just have found an answer to these questions in the form of further questions.  How do you create a sense of community amongst a group of people? How do you connect them to a common task/bigger purpose? Because only when people feel that they belong to a community will they also care about this community that they belong to and that belongs to them (Peter Block). So people care about what they create (Margaret Wheatley), but they carry on caring about what they create because they belong to a community that at the same time belongs to them (and that they carry on creating). So when and how do such transforming communities emerge…?

Catherine Widrig Jenkins

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