A conversation on building community

Notes on building community from the September 25, 2014 Servant-Leader roundtable.

The question:  What does it mean to build community?  How does building community differ from networking?  How do we know we are building community?

These notes are highlight of a conversation on building community involving 20 individuals from a variety of industries and experiences.  What follows is a compilation and interpretation of the notes Jim Kerlin took as the roundtable was being held.  These notes would not be possible without Jim’s note taking ability and the thoughtful reflections of the assembled participants.

Our next roundtable will take place on Thursday, October 23 at the Mad Rooster Café.

Roundtable Summary


Building community:

  • Communities have a purpose and often happen spontaneously around that purpose.
  • While a community may grow around friendships, caring, hardship, or for other purposes there is a distinct lack of personal agenda associated with healthy communities.
  • When we become peers outside rank, there is a different dynamic.   When there is diversity in a group that diversity allows for a richer perspective and also allows the group members to focus on commonalities rather than differences.
  • Even though a community may have a structure, that structure does not become a barrier to communication among all of the community members.  Vince Prantil used the analogy of a three story building to demonstrate a structure that appears hierarchical but is actually fully integrated.
  • We can intentionally set out to start a community but it can’t be sustained unless people want to be there.
  • Sustaining community requires effort.  It takes energy to continue to build and sustain a community.
  • This is a community.
  • The people protesting the death of Dontre Hamilton downtown at Red Arrow Park are building a community.  They don’t want their loved ones hurt.  Will they stay connected as a community?  https://www.facebook.com/justicefordontre.
  • Military members and their families have communities.  Nobody tells them to do this.  It just happens spontaneously. They just do it because they know it must be done.

Healing and community:

  • Building community involves talking about common ground and listening.  Listening is how you sustain it.
  • People relate on a personal level.  We put ourselves in a vulnerable position when we open ourselves up to others.
  • Actively engaging in community requires us to lose ego and keep it in check.


  • We were reminded by one of the new participants in the roundtable that in welcoming we need to be open to stepping back and reflecting on our shared understandings.  In this case we took a few minutes to summarize a few of the main themes of Servant Leadership.  The brief review was a welcomed reflection.
  • The diversity of experiences and approaches to any community is what makes it strong.  This same diversity makes it easier for some to engage than for others.  Being aware of those who are introverted, unfamiliar, or otherwise uncomfortable strengthens the entire community.
  • Note:  While it was not discussed during the roundtable, one measure of the strength of a community is how strangers are welcomed (McKnight, 1995).

Foresight and community:

  • There is a balance between spontaneity vs. intentionality
    We can encourage people to think outside the box of “The way it’s been done in the past.”
  • Continuous improvement programs require thinking out the process for efficiency and effectiveness.  The folks at Force America found their quality circles improved when they divided up the groups to be cross functional.  The result was a greater openness to change and recognition that failure is a part of quality improvement.
  • In Leading by serving, we can Empower people to be the best they can be, or even better than they think.
  • Humility is key.  It’s a journey. 


McKnight, John.  1995.  The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits.  Basic Books.

Author: Dan Lococo

I am a whole person called to engage with others as they realize their own wholeness. Service is the act of engaging with others on their journey to realizing their own wholeness. (December, 2013)

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