Sense of Community- What is it?

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about community.  I find it to be a very interesting concept to consider since we use the word a great deal and I think that we may have different meanings for the word, and not realize it. We have community teams, a community center, a community library and we have community leagues; But what does that all really mean to us?

McMillan (1976) defined a sense of community as “a feeling that members have of belonging and being important to each other, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met by the commitment to be together” (Chipuer & Pretty, 1999, p. 646).

When you think of a community, is this what you think about?

In 1957, the work of Dr. Ferdinand Tonnies was translated into English by Loomis. Tonnies was a German sociologist who theorized the distinction between people who come together because they have free will and not necessarily because they want something for themselves. Those who desire to be together because they are concerned for the good of the whole is known as Gemeinschaft (community).  People who are together due to self interests or maybe just because they happen to be a part of the same organization is Gesellschaft (society).  Because of the self interest of the Gesellschaft, in large organizations, there are sub-groups that form and the higher preferred classes break away and become the elite who make the rules for the rest, causing a break and distortion in the sense of community.  Do you think that there are different types of communities and different ways to think of community?

When you think about your workplace, what type of community are you?

In 1986 McMillan and Chavis devised a model to help explore and explain “sense of community”.  There are four dimensions to this model: Sense of membership and connection with others in the community, a sense of influence over what happens in the community, a sense of fulfillment of needs by the community, and the emotional connection with the successes and failures of the community.

There are 12 questions that make up their SCI (Sense of Community Index).  How would you answer these questions?  How would your employees respond to these questions? While you may not do a formal survey using any of these questions, you may want to incorporate these questions into informal dialogues that you have with your employees.  These are the hard questions that we sometimes shy away from.  But these are the questions that help us to uncover the real layers of messiness that are under the surface of our organizations.

  1. I think my work place is a good place to work.
  2. People in this workplace do not share the same values.
  3. My workmates and  I want the same thing from this workplace.
  4. I can recognize most of the people in my workplace.
  5. I feel at home in this workplace.
  6. Very few of my workmates know me.
  7. I care about what my workmates think of my actions.
  8. I have no influence over what this workplace is like.
  9. If there is a problem in this workplace, please who work here can get it solved.
  10. It is very important to me to work in this workplace.
  11. People in this workplace generally don’t get along with one another.
  12. I expect to work in this workplace for a long time.

When you think about your role as a leader, what influence do you think that you have to develop a more meaningful sense of community within your workplace?  What part do we play as leaders to help facilitate community within our organizations?  Hmmmmm……. just something to ponder for awhile.

What role do I play and can I play in fostering a stronger sense of community within my workplace? 



Chipuer, H. M., & Pretty, G. H. (1999). A review of the sense of community index: Current uses, factor structure, reliability, and further development. Journal Of Community Psychology, 27(6), 643-658.

Tonnies, F. (trans. Loomis, C. P.) (1957). Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft Reprinted from Community and Society. pp. 223-231. Detroit, MI: The Michigan State University Press.

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