Building communities: The solution to every company’s problems

It’s been a while since I came to Japan. I have comfortably settled into my workplace and over time, I’ve seen quite an interesting scenario in Japan’s workplaces. I’ve seen an immense diversity of attitudes, some of which I didn’t expect. I’ve seen leaders of immense capability not being able to handle a company properly. “There are a variety of reasons.” they say. It ranges from blaming Japanese people’s mindsets to their motivations and cultural barriers.

I’ve learnt a lesson from my first year in San Francisco. “The only barriers that exist in this world are the barriers that we make ourselves.” I set off on a mission to understand what was happening. I realized that we lack a community. There is no collective motivation, neither a sense of trust within people that’d allow you to give or take feedback. But why does one need a community ? That’s a hard question to answer but let me have a flashback.

It was a shiny day during the second week of January 2017. We had just started our second semester when my school invited Mr. Eric C. Larson who is the Chairman, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Linden Capital Partners. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Only a few students showed up so I had the opportunity to ask him a wide range of questions. One of the questions was very simple “What have you learnt from building so many companies and ventures?”. He said, “It’s never about the idea or the money, it’s about the people in it. Entrepreneurship is about building relationships.”

That one line had a profound impact on how I think and how I interpret the word community. I’ve learnt that a venture becomes successful when the leader can build a community of values and feelings that becomes collectively motivated to achieve something. But how does one exactly build a community ? The answer lies at the intersection of your perspective and an employee.

One must first understand that Humans have different motivations and different mindsets. If you expect a fellow human to be as motivated as you, you are probably wrong because being successful is a subjective term. A person might be motivated just to achieve enough so that they can sustain themselves. Name and Fame are probably not the motivations of 90% of the humans on this earth. When I say it’s not a motivation, I don’t mean to say that they don’t like it. It’s their dream but not their motivation. Getting my child enrolled into a good school is a motivation, but wondering that if they’d earn immense wealth is probably a dream, said one Japanese parent.

The conversion of dreams into motivations is immensely difficult for those with a fixed mindset and rather, not needed sometimes. It’s not needed because everybody doesn’t want to be rich. To put that into a perspective, everybody can’t be rich either because you need a spectrum of people that can handle a community. Not everyone can be at the center. (It’s very interesting how human minds develop in such a normal distribution such that the spectrum of mindsets is maintained.)

Secondly, Leader’s assume that people’d be motivated for their mission and if they are not, their motivations must be changed. This assumption is false. People would not be motivated towards your mission, they’d be motivated towards a part of your mission that fulfills their mission. Now, its the leader’s duty to find and highlight how the employee’s motivations are met by the company goal. Relationships are established when motivations meet, not change. But so many of today’s leaders fail to recognize their employee’s motivations and keep trying to change people’ s motivations, let alone finding the intersection between the motivations.

A community built on intersection of motivations. Image credits: agilebuddha.com

Third, Communities are built on empathy and trust. When I say empathy, I do mean understanding and building a sense of collective feeling but it’s not as easy as you think. Empathy is way more difficult and complex to understand. One must understand not just the person’s background but their experiences and the way all these come together to build the person that we see today. Once you’ve understood the person, your actions need to be informed by empathy but not be empathetic. You don’t need to mention that you understand, you need to behave like you understand. Your body gestures, your smile, your feedback and the way you talk, all contribute to the empathy that is needed in building a relationship.

The way you understand a person’s background and experiences is simple, talk to them. I’ve visited the HQ of different companies such as Coursera and GSVLabs. I’ve noticed that the boss sits with the employees, the whole company has lunch together, they come and leave together, and most of all, they have a variety of incentives to keep people working including kitchens, gaming areas etc.

One might say that it takes a lot of money to do that. But that’s an assumption based on one single perspective. A communal lunch with your employees just takes rearranged benches, smiles and a motivation to build a relationship. There’s always a creative way out.

Trust and considerateness will follow a person who has clear motivations to build relationships. Lastly, it takes time to build relationships. Money can buy you everything that you need to set up a company and sustain it initially. But money can’t buy communities. It’s only a community, built with clear ethical motivations, that succeeds in their mission.

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