Structural Drivers in Communities and Companies

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Structural Drivers in Communities and Companies

After a weekend retreat with the Embassy SF this past weekend, a discussion arose around efficiency of communications and meetings. What are the goals of our collaboration? Comparison with someone’s company came up. I found myself arguing against what felt like a corporate push for efficiency because “this is a community, not a company.”


Upon further reflection I wasn’t so sure. Is a community necessarily different than a company? Should it be?

Is the group driven by shared interests and values, or goals? Communities unite outside of specific goals, around implicit or inherent shared values and resources. Those values or resources may drive specific goals or outcomes, but they are outgrowths of the shared values, not goals that exist independent of those values. Probably all best companies have core shared values, but it’s not their raison-d’etre.

Is the priority of the group integrity of process, or product? Communities often focus on process at the expense of a product or outcomes. Companies often do the opposite, focusing on product over process. An observation about communities is that they have a tendency to exhaust people, precisely because of this emphasis on process.

Efficiency or humanity? Companies are mostly designed to optimize for efficiency and speed (especially around here), which can be fun – but also has the potential to be dehumanizing. One way to think about communities is that it’s the participants’ experience or satisfaction that is the “product.” In this case, focusing on speed at the expense of process and human details, doesn’t make much sense.

Is the group organized around internal or external interests? A community tends to exist serve the interests of its members (even if those interests are worldly things), whereas a company tends to exist to meet or serve an external interest (even if it’s also of great interest to its employees).

What are the primary drivers of the group’s boundary conditions? Clearly both types of organization have boundary conditions for participation. In communities, emphasizing humanity and integrity of process doesn’t mean being arbitrarily (or infinitely) inclusive. People who deviate far from the norms of a group will either be moderated by the existing system, or a boundary will be created (by the deviant or the group) to protect one or both. If a company prioritizes efficiency and specific outcomes, we could then expect that those are primary criteria against which people are included or excluded. Alternatively, it makes sense for communities to select people based on process, while remaining fairly open to changing goals and outcomes.

The lines between a company and a community are often blurred, especially at a small scale. And many of the very best companies and communities are hard pressed to distinguish between which they really identify as. So do the emphasis on humanity and integrity of process require communities to reject efficiency? If not, why are so many community groups ineffective?

While it’s true that some things are more important than efficiency, it is not out of scope for communities. We can address this through being extra cognizant of our boundary conditions – recruiting for people who fit into our process (as opposed to our outcomes). As a reference point, when I’m in a community setting, my flags would go off if we were prioritizing speed over process. But if we started to sacrifice outcomes, I’d look more closely at boundary conditions, and begin to question whether there were people in the community who were a mismatch for our process.


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