“My true personality will be fulfilled in the Mystical Christ in this one way above all: that through me, Christ and His Spirit will be able to love you and all men and God the Father in a way that would be possible in no one else.” – Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

No man is an island. Monks, even as they emphasize solitude and silence, realize the unique gifts that each person brings to the table. Added together, these gifts can become greater than the sum of their parts. Sharing oneself in a commitment to community— to its rule of life and its members— is an integral part of the monastic vocation. What is the secret that lies behind this willingness to make a commitment to community? Can the monastic understanding of community be applied to building community in the secular business world?

Synergy: The Value of Community

Here’s the secret of the monks: Giving oneself to a well-ordered community isn’t about self-annihilation. On the contrary, community creates a synergy that lifts its members beyond what they could achieve alone. Joined together, the gifts and skills of individuals bolster each other and strengthen the community. Often, the fruit of community living is an increase in efficiency.

What does community look like in a monastery? In the monastic life, each monk or brother has a specific role in the house, this role commits him to the good of the whole. Moreover, the brothers share: They share a common chapel, a common table, and common recreation. In some communities that engage in academic classes, brothers with a strong inclination to academic work are assigned to help weaker brothers. In some communities, grades are not even assigned, to allow for the pursuit of truth in solidarity, without the distractions of anxiety about grades or temptation to competition!

The monastic life reveals this principle: There is a balance between communal activity and individual activity each day that makes each person’s activity more effective for the whole. Humans were made as social beings who must relate to others to develop their potential. In fact, a person becomes more individually himself the more he lives in healthy community with others! Considered in this light, the value of building community becomes clearer.

Building a Community: Parallels in the Natural World

If we turn to the world of nature, we can find intriguing examples of the synergy resulting from social behavior in communities. For instance, ant communities— regardless of whether they are underground, in trees, or in mounds on the ground—often exhibit an incredibly structured social plan, in which queens lay thousands of eggs while worker ants care for the nest and protect the community.

Honeybees, too, are instinctively cooperative. Honeybee hives are societies with clearly delineated roles— workers, queen bee, and drones. The honeybees cluster together during the winter months, which allows the bees to conserve warmth. If even insect communities are carefully designed for the good of the whole, for realizing the value of community, how much more should our human communities be able to work for the common good, for all of us to be able to flourish?

Business Application

So, how do we implement the monks’ secret of the value of community (which even the bees and ants imitate to some extent) in our own busy business lives?

Build a Team

Understanding the value of community is especially important when we are tasked with building a team. If we are choosing the members, we have a wonderful opportunity to consider human dynamics and channel different strengths into a cohesive team. Business writers W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne offer sound advice when they say, “When it comes to whom to select for the team, job title is not the most important factor. Character is.” The business gurus continue:

You want to select people who are good listeners, are known to be thoughtful, and are willing to raise questions when others don’t. People who not only can dream big but also are noted for their commitment to getting things done. These are the people others will naturally tend to admire and listen to. Such people elevate the credibility of the team within the organization and the respect team members have for one another… At the same time, you will also want to put one (or potentially two) known naysayers on the team… putting a devil’s advocate on the team boosts the credibility of the process and the team’s findings.

Develop Your Team

Even if we aren’t in a position of building a community, we are likely part of one already. Insights about the value of community apply here as well.

In the business life, it is vitally important that each member of the team experience, sensibly, that they are a member of the team. Enabling this experience can take a wide range of forms, from sharing in common meetings or common coffee to having a common uniform or common work etiquette. As long as what is shared does not stifle the individual’s sense of personal identity, this common experience can powerfully increase effectiveness and individual efficiency.

Interestingly, one study found that, when people tasted chocolate at the same time as someone else did, they liked that chocolate better. On the flipside, when people tasted bitter chocolate simultaneously with someone else, they found the experience even more negative than when tasting bitter chocolate alone. Sharing experiences with others heightens our experience, having the power to make it feel even more negative or positive than if we are alone!

While teambuilding can have the reputation of being something coercive, forced, and un-fun, think creatively about how your employees can spend time together in a non-work atmosphere. From going rock-climbing to sharing life goals list, there are many options for facilitating community outside of a pressurized, task-oriented work environment.

Think of the Common Good

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives,” says Andrew Carnegie. “It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

As you work toward building community, think in terms of the common good. All of the conditions of social life— from wages being paid on time to the temperature of the building or color of the paint— touch on the common good. Does your workplace allow relatively thorough and ready access to what you need, and what your coworkers need, for fulfillment? If not, is there anything you can do to improve it? Caring about the common vision is easier when individuals know that they are cared for.

Solidarity and Subsidiarity

When building community, remember that effective communities are based on two components: solidarity and subsidiarity. Human communities should always be designed and formed with these two principles in mind. Solidarity recognizes the importance of collaboration and teamwork, how the person needs others to relate to and encounter. Meanwhile, subsidiarity recognizes the value of managing societal affairs on the lowest effective level possible— If someone can do something, let them! That empowers them and lets them grow and use their potential most fully.

Me and We…

Ultimately, the value of community exists for the sake of the individual, not the individual for the sake of the community. But it is equally important to remember this reality: I as an individual person always find my fulfillment as part of a community.

Balancing subsidiarity and solidarity in the workplace or the home takes wisdom and careful planning. But building community well can result in a burst of efficiency and fruitfulness that we could not have achieved on our own. Effective business leaders facilitate this synergy by respecting the individual, while simultaneously drawing him into a place of belonging, a communion with others where his skills are serving the splendor of a common vision.

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa

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