Community Building - do you grow organically?

Hi Nina,

and welcome to the family :grinning:

Any insight you could share on the aspect you’ve covered with the agency would be of interest.

Happy to share some on my side as soon as i’ll have some concrete results


@Damien_Cauvet Thank you for your reply and interest, indeed, we have over 100 survey results of coworking members from different spaces we compared with interview results of their community managers.

We asked about community-defining attributes & preferences.
One of the most enlightening results have been that interaction alone is not enough to enable a collaborating community. There are definitely boundaries that block organic growth, referred to community size, leadership structure and member-ecosystem.

To give you an example: According to the social learning theory, it makes a difference if you have mainly “networkers”; “thinkers” or “co-creaters” in your space (categories defined by us.) - activities should be adjusted according to your individual ecosystem.

Hope this answer could serve and was not too complex :slight_smile:

So true! Interaction and proximity are table stakes, but they don’t really do much of the heavy lifting.

I think of community work like gardening. You can’t FORCE plants to grow, they have to do the growing.

But if you understand their needs, the environment, the resources they consume and create, the ways they can be nurtured and incentives they need to be healthy you can increase the odds of them growing.

And lets not forget that ecological diversity creates the most robust, self-perpetuating results.

Community building as a practice is the human psychology version of gardening!

Hi @alex what an honour you jumped on my comment :slight_smile: I’ve been following your beautiful metahpers for years, but one question that always drives me is:

Assuming we are all plants: We don’t want to plant just a garden, we need a forest. But there are forests (e.g. The black forest) which maintains with a very low variety) For innovation, however, we need a rain forest! An ecosystem that lives in a long run in peace among all its diversity. How we ensure the fulfillment of all these different needs?

Nature sustains because of it’s cycles. In order to create these robust results, I personally think, we have to support different forms of communicating needs. But how to make this profitable from an economic standpoint? Is this even possible without planting new trees to e.g. “balance things out” ?

But there are forests (e.g. The black forest) which maintains with a very low variety)

While the black forest is low in variety of trees, trees are not the only lifeform in the forest. :wink:

I also don’t think you need to go all the way to rainforest level diversity to allow for innovation, you just need the combination of a) enough trust for people to be willing to share ideas, and b) enough diversity in those perspectives & skills to bring those ideas to fruition

But how to make this profitable from an economic standpoint? Is this even possible without planting new trees to e.g. “balance things out” ?

Trees don’t care about profit, so…I’m not sure the metaphor is serving this part of your question haha.

Can you be more specific about what you mean in the context of a community?

Thanks Simone,

Does make sense. Like your 3 catégories.
I see the role of community as :
1 - within the coworking space, to improve retention & word of mouth for growth.
2 - outside the coworking space, like a Facebook group for entrepreneurs / independents etc where you can tap in like a reservoir to fill in your coworking space.

is this something you have measured through your surveys ?


I like your view of community work, let me share with you all four categories:
Bildschirmfoto 2022-01-18 um 08.51.08

Regarding your question: We measured activities inside communities because I was interested in the fact how collaboration can be enabled and what role the community manager ideally has. Like with almost everything in life, there is no right or wrong, but our research showed that the more you led work your community autonomous the better.
Credits therefore at this point to @alex with his description of “The Tummler” !
Would you agree?

I will be publishing several short e-books in the upcoming months to show results and give some ideas about community building. How to transform social capital into financial one and vice versa. Follow me on LinkedIn or look up our site Pappus.Agency for more
Hope I could help :slight_smile:


I am sorry for using confusing metaphors (you started :smiley: ) and yes, you are right. But all lifeforms need other lifeforms to survive, so your argument does not really count in my eyes. I agree with your points a) and b), but surprisingly my research showed slightly different results. I asked for:

Bildschirmfoto 2022-01-18 um 08.40.31

Together with the interviews, I found out that 1. Trust is given “Always” or “Most of the Time” and that 2. Interaction exists in various forms (enabled and spontaneous) - however, collaboration (people helping each other out or working on projects) was only “Sometimes or Never existent” although there was enough interaction.

You could say, “OK, maybe they are bored with work and share mainly personal interests” - Professional Networking was on place number 2 when asked about their most important community attribute.

What would be your explanation?

I am sorry for using confusing metaphors (you started :smiley: )

LOL no worries, you’re right I def started it this time :joy:

Together with the interviews, I found out that 1. Trust is given “Always” or “Most of the Time”

I think your data provides exactly the clue to answer your question!

A good starting point is this talk about trust, and more specifically, trustworthyness. Onora O’Neill’s work is vast on the topic of trust.

Combing O’Neill’s perspective with a few of my own ideas and observations:

First, trust isn’t a binary or an on/off switch, it’s a spectrum.

Second, people may say they give trust “always” or “most of the time” but I bet you’d find some illuminating answers if you asked them how much or in what ways.

Just for illustration’s sake:

  • Would you leave them with your laptop or other valuables unattended? Would you lock your screen when you left your laptop, or leave it unlocked?
  • Would you ask them to watch after a pet? Your kids? Your house?
  • Would you lend them your umbrella? Bicycle? Car? $1000?
  • Would you share how much money you earn? How much debt you have?
  • Would you recommend them for a job working for your best friend, or a family member?
  • Would you ask them for advice? Would you take their advice? Would you recommend them as a source of advice for other people?

Obviously the answers to these are more nuanced, and depend on lots of context. Which is exactly the point. Collaboration isn’t simply “working together” it’s an act of psychological intimacy and requires access to the deeper layers of trust beyond what most people will give as a default.

Going a bit further, I like to borrow an idea from the field of positive psychology. Before positive psych, the discipline of psychology was mostly about “fixing broken people” or getting them from some form of damaged, to a “normal” or “healthy” baseline. If you thought of it as a spectrum of psychological wellness, people started treatment somewhere on a negative number spectrum (say negative 10 to zero), and positive psych tried to get them closer to zero.

Positive psych came along and said: wait, these tools aren’t just for fixing what’s broken, they can also be used to unlock potential. The field of positive psych attempts to help people expand into the 0 to +10 positive end of the spectrum.

Now…take that spectrum –– from -10 to 0 to +10 –– and apply it to trust.

In the professional cultures of most western countries, people tend to view trust on a -10 to 0 spectrum, where “I trust you” in a work setting really means “I don’t think you’re actively trying to screw me over.” Contracts and negotiation, most organizational politics, etc are all rooted in making sure you’re not getting screwed.

But what of the 0 to +10 end of the trust spectrum? Again, in most western cultures, that’s reserved for family and close friends. In the best of cases, we find the 0 to +10 trust spectrum at play in neighborhoods and communities, where trust goes further than “I don’t think you’re trying to screw me” and instead “I have a reason to believe you have my back.”

In the context of a survey of people in coworking spaces, I’d be willing to be that 99% of the people who said “I trust my coworkers” were really saying “I think they’re decent people and aren’t actively trying to hurt me” but that’s not that same as “I think that they are actively looking out for me and my best interests.”

And THAT is why collaboration is so much harder, and why collaboration so often fails when it’s not built on the foundation of people who have demonstrated trustworthiness.

Collaboration requires a level of trust and trustworthiness to be visible and accessible. IMO this is a HUGE part of the job of the tummler, to create and co-create spaces and opportunities where people can demonstrate their trustworthiness just as much as people can extend (and test) that trust safely through acts of community co-creation before going deeper into a higher-stakes collaboration.

@alex Thanks a lot for this introduction! I really like the idea of the spectrum - a big fan in general of ideas which are not black or white :wink: I thought about this kind of evaluation, but you are right. Would you say it makes a difference if you live in a high or low context culture?
Esther Perel just recently released some thoughts about navigating new relationships (Dating is a cycle of beginnings and endings. Here’s how to navigate it. - Letters From Esther Live - YouTube), it kind of reminded me of entering a new coworking space.

Collaboration requires a level of trust and trustworthiness to be visible and accessible my new Mantra :slight_smile:

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100%. In fact the whole riff on the positive psychology spectrum was something I started working many years ago when I started working with coworking ecosystems in Asian countries, and started to peel apart my own understanding of westernized professional/work cultures compared to others (and why my “relationship-level trust first” approach seemed to feel more at home in Asian cultures compared to the US and even parts of Europe.

That makes total sense to me!

I think a lot of coworking spaces make the mistake of heavily focusing on on stage of the member lifecycle (the one that puts butts in seats) and they forget to pay attention the other 95% of a members’ lifecycle, which includes when members leave for good, healthy reasons.

One of my personal metrics for success is how many of our members who’ve left because they outgrew us in some way (a good thing!) cycle back in the next time they are experiencing some sort of life or professional transition. The numbers are staggeringly high, and contribute to what’s become a pretty amazing multi-generational ecosystem instead of just a community of startups or just a community of experienced entrepreneurs – the fact that people return with their experiences from outside of the community is critical to long term success.

YES! :raised_hands:

This is a true goal :scream_cat: getting difficult in most incubators though where I experience “the end of a cycle” almost every 6 months. And then you often never know what you get. Would you say it makes sense therefore to monitor who is coming out and in to ensure a variety which is naturally balancing out?

Wow, this sounds super interesting - do you have published some observations? I also imagine having a hard job as community manager in Asia, or experiencing the need to redefine its role.

If I’m totally honest, I think this is one of the ways that incubators diverge from community building practices. A sense of community is (sometimes) a secondary effect of being bonded by a cohort experience, but I think it’s pretty normal for things to end there.

I do have some great stories and lessons but none currently published, sorry!

Not really any harder than anywhere else! And you already know that I think “community management” needs serious redefinition, regardless of where :wink:

I’m sure it’s harder for a westerner to try and lead a community that’s predominantly built on a different culture (just as it would be if the environments were reversed), but if anything I think that Asian collectivist cultures are often more aligned for community building than the more individualist western ones.

Interesting thought, I would like to open a discussion about it. Only problem: my Asian audience is not really representative. But let’s keep this topic in mind!

Good observation, I am located in an “Impact Hub” and I already have heard some coworkers complaining about it. Question is: What do we do with the people when they finally found what they were looking for? (community). Emotional support is in my opinion still N°1 on the list for helping new entrepreneurs, every other program is secondary.

What do you mean “what do we do with them?”

This was more an rhetoric question. But yes, when people want to keep the same experience as they had, although being in an incubator.

Honest answer from me is: you cant be everything to everybody.

Incubators have a job.
Communties have a job.

A lot of the time, those jobs are different and IMO they are a lot more orthogonal than they seem.

Get honest about priorities. Whatever those priorities are, make sure the actions and interactions match.

Let people choose their path based on that, and everything becomes a lot easier.

Love that, greetings from Costa Rica :slight_smile:
Do you have any fav Coworking Space here ?