What does it mean to build community at the speed of trust?
I’m often skeptical when organizations tell me how fast they are hoping to “build” a community. 200 people the first year, 1000 people the second year, and so on. While networks can form very quickly, communities evolve at the speed of trust: the speed at which relationships form, deepen and become actionable. The reality is, that speed is very, very slow. It takes a long time to build trust (and just a quick moment to lose it…).
The speed of trust limits what’s possible
- It affects size: To weave community it is not realistic to grow big groups fast. Groups have to start small and gently grow bigger, weaving them from the inside out.
- It requires strategic patience: If your organization wants to invest into community, there is no point in doing it for one or two years. Ideally there is a 3+ years commitment. Less resources consistently spread out over time will lead to a smarter outcome than a lot of resources deployed over a short amount of time.
But it ultimately makes the community impactful
In a world where my online order will show up at my doorsteps tomorrow and where I look for instant gratification in my virtual interactions, it’s hard to make a case for building something slowly over a long period of time. But there are significant reasons:
- Transformation happens at the speed of relationships. As my friend Erin Dixon says wisely: “change happens along the lines of relationships”. And, as the quote above by Jen Bailey expresses so beautifully: if we want to transform systems through our communities and transform the people in it, we have to move at the speed of relationships.
- Trust builds a stable core. Groups with a core of trusted relationships are much more stable and resilient. At Sandbox we have experienced the resilience of trusted relationships to external shocks such as leadership challenges, financial constraints or conflict.
- Trusted relationships are a huge source of energy. Many communities struggle with activating passive members. Trusted relationships often are one of the best motivators for people to keep showing up.
Fast and slow at the same time?
I do think there is merit in groups that work with both: a small community at the centre that grows at the speed of trust, and a larger, looser network around it, which can form and grow much more quickly. The important thing is that we design intentional pathways between, and don’t just mix them all up into one big, unclear thing.
How do you think about the speed of trust?
How does this resonate with you and what have you learned about the health and necessity of different speeds in groups? Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
If you’re interested to go deeper, here are some related posts
- Community principle: Weaving from the inside out
- The role of strategic patience in building meaningful communities
- Systemic challenge of building meaningful communities: our unhealthy relationship with time
- Cheap and simple — a counterintuitive & powerful community design principle
This post was created in community and is part of a bigger project.
We met as part of the Community Canvas project in 2018 and have been running virtual learning journeys for community weavers since then. Now we are documenting our key learnings and working on a next version of an open-sourced community weaving framework. This post is part of it. The learning journeys were developed by Michel Bachmann and Fabian Pfortmüller, guided with the support of Erin Dixon and Sita Magnusson and shaped by the conversations and insights by many, many community weavers. Thank you to everyone who contributed. Sign up here if you’d like to be notified when we launch the new framework.
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