Free Time, and Building Community

What transforms a group of individuals into a community? It’s a big question, one I’ve been pondering lately while researching software platforms for building customer-centric communities.

From my experience building enterprise collaboration systems, I know that culture is always a key ingredient. But this week, I attended our company’s new hire orientation session, and was reminded of how crucial culture really is.

The Silicon Valley start-up where I work is definitely in hyper-growth mode – in the three months I’ve been here, more than 60 people have come on board. I met almost all those people in the opening session. To keep the introductions brief, people were asked to share just their name, job, location, and how they spend their free time.

I was fascinated to learn that:

  • Whether they’re from Oklahoma, Australia, Germany or England, most of my new colleagues focus their free time on the same thing – relationships with their wives, husbands, children, family and friends.
  • Sports provide a great catalyst for connection, whether it’s over a common home team or a shared rivalry.
  • Humor brings us together, even if it’s just the shared recognition that for anyone with small children, “free time” is a theoretical concept, not an actual thing.

I hadn’t met most of these people before this week, and it was certainly interesting to learn their names, locations, and jobs. But what really gave me a sense of knowing them was discovering that Roger plays basketball, Jake’s into woodworking, and the fastest commute between Copenhagen and southern Malmö is now via bridge rather than by boat.

You can define community-building many different ways, but ultimately it comes down to forging connections between people.