There is a science to building belonging. Here’s what I have learnt from my own experience building peer groups and communities.
Do you have a tribe? Does your brand have a tribe? Are you looking to create a tribe?
This is my tribe. In this photo are dozens of experience creators and facilitators who I nominated to join my community, PEAK-XP. It feels like I have known them for ages.
A tribe is defined as a close group of humans who share a concern for each other’s welfare. A tribe is a little bit more extreme than a community. A tribe stands for something. A community may just exist around a shared activity, whereas a tribe has a purpose and identity.
My tribe is a group of thrill-seekers who value health, personal growth, and playfulness. My community PEAK-XP is a platform for me to interconnect my tribe and offer them value. It’s located on Slack.
Travelling the world studying the science of social bonding and immersing myself in different tribes taught me that there is a science to engineering belonging.
In this article, I want to share the 20% that got me 80% of the results. I hope the lessons help you create your own tribe, strengthen your brand’s tribe, or inspire you to improve the tribes to which you belong.
I think that building tribes and connecting humans to one another is one of the greatest acts of generosity. Helping others by connecting them with others is not often compared to buying gifts for someone or taking them out for dinner. But it is more powerful!
I believe tribe-building is a form of giving, and so I implement these principles in my day-to-day life.
Cultivate shared purpose and values.
Again, again, and again, I read about the importance of purpose and values. The specificity of who is in your tribe delimits the belonging that can be experienced within the tribe. If the purpose is not thought out, your tribe will suffer the ‘everything and nothing effect’ whereby members of your tribe do not know why the tribe exists and who the tribe is for.
The purpose of your tribe is the shared outcome that everyone is working toward. Is it personal growth, cooking expertise, animal ethics, or marriage improvement?
Reflecting on the purpose of your tribe and the values that underlie this purpose is essential to building a self-sustaining tribe. That is… one that operates regardless of whether you are there fueling it.
All of this ties into the mistake of overinclusion. With diversity and inclusion as the new focus for many leaders, the importance of exclusion has been lost. Your tribe is not for everyone, so do not include everyone.
For years, I included everyone in my community. Finally, I drafted some core values and started being selective about who I let into my tribe. This is one of my sign up forms for my community. You can see that joining my tribe is not for everyone.
Stories were the medium for transmission of cultural information before the invention of writing and computers. In copywriting, story-telling is one of the most powerful ways to sell a product. The same applies to tribe-building. Humans are wired to resonate with others’ experiences. We are empathetic beings and can’t help it.
Stories relating to the origin and values of your tribe will stimulate interest in the tribe and also strengthen your shared purpose and values. Stories inspire people to live the tribe’s values. Stories also inspire people to join the tribe.
Stories, of course, contain a protagonist. This is the main character who goes on a journey to overcome a particular challenge. This challenge is significant. Resonance with the protagonist in the story what attracts more tribe members, especially if the purpose of your tribe is to address said challenge.
Here’s an example of a story.
One of my tribe’s core values is Thrill. We define it as openness to new experiences, seeking the excitement of new experiences and connections.
During my workshops, I like to tell the story of arriving in NYC for the first time. I did not know anyone, but regardless I decided to attend a high-profile networking event in a high-rise. I showed up alone and introduced myself in front of fifty people as a party scientist. Everyone laughed. Then, given a last-minute opportunity, I decided to lead a session during the event on the science of bringing people together. It went well.
My courageous networking and leadership led me to make some awesome connections. I met the leaders of massive communities in the city and was invited to a private event for facilitators and event producers.
At that event, I did not shy away from the opportunity to lead. With the 20 people I wanted to connect with, I led a group sit—which erupted in a cheer at the end. Then, multiple people wanted to talk to me.
My embodiment of thrill led me to build a network of friends and collaborators in NYC, in less than a week.
My tribe members resonate with the challenge of building belonging in a new environment, meeting new people, and facing the fear of embarrassment.
Focus on the first impression and the last impression.
A pivotal moment in building your tribe is when someone joins the tribe or arrives at one of your gatherings. Research on memory has shown that humans remember the beginning, peaks, and ends of experiences. This means it is important to begin a relationship on a strong note.
My goal during these moments is to make newcomers feel accepted, valued, and included. I begin my gatherings very intentionally, with connection games and energizers. When new tribe members join my online community, I reach out to them personally to welcome them, and I nominate them to introduce themselves and ask for help.
For gatherings, the last impression is just as important as the first impression. Would people come back for more if the experience merely petered out? Or if it ended with a bang and a feeling of “I want more”? My favorite rituals for ending my classes are designed to produce this feeling. They include appreciation circles, inspirational speeches, and vulnerability sharing.
Create a platform to tighten the tribe.
In Tribes, Seth Godin says that leaders give people a platform for organizing around a purpose. This platform is one that enables intercommunication between tribe members. The easier it is for members to connect with one another, the more likely social bonds are to form. This means community leaders must be intentional about building a platform that enables members to connect with one another. And they must create an environment where engagement and reaching out is encouraged.
I have implemented a private platform for my tribe to connect with one another and for community engagement to be visible to everyone.
Ask for help.
I remember a quote from an article in the Harvard Business Review, written by Brenee Brown: “She found that asking for help was the #1 trust-building behavior in a survey of over 1,000 leaders.”
In my own tribe, I encourage people to ask for help because it is the basis for belonging. I role model the behavior and I also have created a digital message channel strictly for asking for help.
Here’s a summary of my principles: Be intentional. And exclude.
Remember: relationships are slow. Be patient. Belonging develops slowly, over repeated encounters. Rushing belonging is not the right approach.
Trust me, I have rushed for 70% of my life. And it has led to some below-average communities.
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