Insights from a recent SpeakTo project supporting a housing association and its relationship with its communities.

We have recently completed the first phase of a fascinating project for a large housing association to help identify the optimum approach to building stronger communities. Our client’s aim is to connect with the huge hidden potential existing within the communities they work with and find a new mobilising approach to work more effectively alongside them.

This is a tall order for any conventionally structured organisation. At the heart of successful community building is an ability to work with agility to embrace the fast-changing dynamics, the unpredictability inherent in communities and to build trusted relationships. This is rare in most hierarchical organisations where the focus is largely on being in control, with an established narrative around certainty. Community building is not rocket science, it’s more complex than that; it’s reliant on the strength of positive relational dynamics.

Relationships are built they are not ordained. They take time to foster and need honesty to produce the resilience needed to address conflict and change. Strong relationships are not founded on what is said, nor really what is done, but on how people are made to feel. Leaders’ need to focus on bringing people together around a shared ambition, create the best conditions for people to succeed with their own delivery attracting wide ranging ownership. It requires leaders to unlearn some aged-old lessons and challenge some embedded assumptions.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a massive difference, just something different to be done

The rewards of implementing new approach are rich and long lasting, and don’t require huge upheaval or rewriting of rule books, just a step-change in mindset and development of a learning culture. The new bold and brave is small and considered, steps that are both viable and progressive, a process of learning and innovation that involve people in whole new dynamic way. Our experience shows that small change, well considered and reflected upon is significantly more effective than sweeping initiatives that may be big on ambition, but are weak on implementation.

Our first phase of work involved guided conversations with a wide group of stakeholders throughout the organisation and in the community to delve into the flesh and bones of the relationships that exist internally and externally within their communities. To examine the organisations’ capacity to work more collaboratively and with innovation, where the focus is less about control more about facilitation.

What are the key characteristics of the relationships that create the operative framework and carry such influence on the limitations and possibilities of the project?

What we’ve learned so far

At the end of the first phase we have learnt important lessons about the people involved, the prevailing culture, the challenges present, but also the positive well of possibility that exists. The overriding relationship throughout the organisation we define as “Compassionate Patriarch”, which contains many of the key elements needed for them to progress, but recognises also the type of challenges they face.

We have a clear step plan to develop a process that will instigate a wider collaborative approach that can help shape new more constructive relationships whilst embedding a culture better able to withstand change and uncertainty.

The first, often missed lesson in building successful communities is building the belief in people to be more with less, this is the focus to kick start phase two of this exciting project.

Building successful communities of people means building relationships that come from a place of belief that people are capable, resourceful, reliable, knowledgeable, committed when given the right conditions to be. With that mindset, anything is possible.

So if you are hoping to build more successful communities of people within your organisation, with customers, or with other external stakeholders, start by looking at the dynamics of the existing relationships to assess whether they will support that, or prevent it.