Creating Spirit Communities

No, this isn’t an early Halloween blog!  I had the privilege of sharing lunch with Harvard Business School’s legendary

Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kantor last week during her whirlwind tour of DC where she is promoting her latest book: “SuperCorp:  How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good.”

Initially, I had trouble figuring out how her book related to government.  It is about how some large corporations are changing their business models to incorporate a more explicit link between their corporate performance and community and social needs.  As Kantor puts it:  “Doing well by doing good.”  She says this approach both embraces the values and expectations of the new generation of professionals as well as generates growth by stressing organizational values and collaborative partnering.

But she helped me make it click.

Governments, like large corporations, are struggling to figure out how to work across boundaries (This phenomena has been explored by other business scholars, such as Charles Heckscher).  Kantor says that successful organizations develop clear purpose, values, and principles to guide their business strategy. . . that these have to be at the center of a common conversation among employees and partners.  She says that you start with building relationships, not changing organizational structures.

One way of building relationships is to work together on projects with a common objective.  She says that working together on non-work related projects, like community service projects, is a good way to begin this in a non-threatening environment.  She calls these efforts “spirit communities” where people self-organize and self-monitor around a project of interest.  Large corporations, she has found, are using this as an approach for building collaborative team skills in their future leaders.  In fact, these projects are becoming ways of providing leadership training!

Translating this to a federal government environment, she encourages an ethos that allows a degree of self-organizing, and providing mentoring, as a way of developing collaborative leadership skills. 

This might happen via Federal Executive Boards, which are located in 28 areas around the country and are networks of agencies that happen to be co-located in a common geographic area such as Denver or Oklahoma City.  These boards already sponsor community efforts such as blood drives and Combined Federal Campaigns.  But thinking more strategically of “spirit communities” and collaborative leadership skill building is a different approach to why agencies should encourage their employees to participate.  And it is a way for public servants to extend their already-existing “doing good” efforts!