Community building. What’s that actually mean anyway? As most of you should know by now, the BizDojo Auckland recently undertook two massive logistical projects. We moved the GridAKL community from one building (Polperro building) into another (Lysaght building), and two months later took another (Ironbank building) and fused it with the first one. We’re in the fourth week of the adventure, and much has been learned.
Figuring out how to move this many people while still maintaining the idea of coworking, and more so, of community, was no easy feat. We’re still learning. The wonderful Casey McLellan (formerly of the Polperro building) and I (formerly from Ironbank) were tasked with creating a community integration plan - that is, a plan that answers the question “how do we do all this stuff, while creating a means of integrating the two communities before, during, and after the big move?”
As we all know, people are resistant to change. Also, people are different. Vastly different. It’s rare that I meet someone as extroverted as I am and who has a seemingly endless energy source when surrounded by humans, but I know that there are so many that are exactly the opposite. As community managers we need to see the world through other people’s eyes and attempt to facilitate their connections in ways that are different from our own.
A few weeks back we came up with one idea that actually came forth by having vast discussions with the community (which, by the way, is probably the most important part of change management: people need to feel heard). We adopted a simple concept from the days of university. All those students from different cities around the country, often alone, flung into one place - how do you meld them together? The answer was simple: Orientation Week.
The beauty of a university O-Week is that it offers something for most. Entertainment, music, interactive and educational events and so on. A single high impact, intensive week of activity which hopefully breaks everyone in. There’s no denying that alcohol often has a part to play at university, but our environment is different. So we made it fit and we knew is that we can couldn't take too much of people’s valuable working time. While many are freelancers, many others are employees, and only have a set amount of time for lunch and other breaks.
So we scheduled an array of events at different times, and at least one each day that hopefully would appeal to the various personality types in our space. That was the key - inclusivity. Here’s a rough synopsis of events and why they worked:
Monday: Speed Dating
This one seemed a bit risque at first, and even a bit lame, but we thought a round of speed dating would be a quick way for ex-Polperro residents to meet ex-Ironbank residents. We lined them up opposite each other, shoulder to shoulder, and every two minutes the Ironbankers took one step to the left (and the last person ran to the start of the loop). This was an absolute winner. Such a quick win which allowed about 25 people to quickly meet new faces and shake hands. So much energy, and so many smiles. Success!
Tuesday: Old traditions, new ideas
We saw an opportunity to show the Polperro community a part of Ironbank’s tradition, as well as teach Ironbank how Polperro communicate internally using Slack. So I ran a quick “Each One Teach One” - a community driven series of mini seminars about anything and everything that other residents may see value in. We immediately saw a significant rise in Slack users. Success!
We also had a barista come in and teach residents how to make a super-duper flat white, amongst an array of other coffee styles.
Wednesday: Food, facts and a resident story
Everyone likes food right? So we planned a community shared lunch. Everyone brought a plate, and we laid two massive tables out with food and shouted “go!”. Food was eaten and conversations were had - nothing quite like bonding over great food.
Then our residents Dave and Amanda from Greenshoot Pacific give us a quick session on sustainable workplaces and inspired us to be the leaders in the local business precinct. A 15 minute session went on for 30 because people were so involved… so much more than we had hoped for. Minutes later a whole new Slack channel called “Dojo Change Makers” was formed with 22 members from both communities which started brainstorming how we go about affecting change. A follow up meeting has been had, a blog post has been written, and there are plans in the making.
Thursday: Crackers, cheese and the WHY of BizDojo
Cheese, crackers, chips and dip were offered as a means of creating glue around co-founder Jonah Merchant. Jonah gave the community a presentation based one he gave at Creative Mornings last year (you can watch the video here) on the changing nature of work, on the birth of the BizDojo, and on what the future has in store. As it turns out, people in general are very interested in this topic. The cheese and crackers were barely touched, and the turnout and follow on conversations were fantastic.
Friday: Breaking bread (and drinking beers) with your new friends
Friday saw us bring another Ironbank tradition to the new space. Community Breakfast is our last-Friday-of-the-month chance to invite Dojo friends of past and present to enjoy some creatively made food together. We were blessed with a beautiful morning and over 60 attendees chilled out in our laneway, meeting and connecting.
And to top it all off, we had to give the party animals in our community a time to shine as well. Alcohol and snacks were the name of the game, and thanks to Previously Unavailable, we devoured a stash of Stolen Rum, a load of beer and wine, and a whole heap of pizza. We raged on until well after dark. Some excellent community building was exemplified by many new and old faces sticking together until the end. Success!
So what’s the bottom line message here? For residents, walking into a new space with so many people is tough. Have you ever stood in a filthy, messy room and couldn’t figure out where to begin in cleaning it? That’s what it’s like. There are too many people to even know where to start. A big lesson here is that simply helping people break the ice and meet a new person for even just two minutes means they’re that much more at ease in saying hi to each other in future and eventually in having real conversations. A few sparks help create many, and already in the week following O-Week we can see more fluidity, interactions and chats amongst faces that hadn't happened before.
Who would have thought that seven years at university actually taught me something. At least I took one valuable lesson with me: put a bunch of people together and offer them meaningful and varied ways to connect, and the magic will naturally happen.
Gil is the Community & Communications Coordinator at BizDojo Auckland.