Building Community:
The Human Side of Work

Authors: George Manning, Kent Curtis and Steve McMillen
Book review from Training and Development, May 1996


According to the authors of Building Community: The Human Side of Work, individuals achieve their fullest potential in relationship to people and values beyond themselves. In the workplace, a sense of community can improve productivity, motivation, and self-esteem. But how can community be nurtured and maintained in the modern workplace? Building Community attempts to answer this complex question with detailed research and real-world examples. In addition, the book includes questionnaires and self-assessment tests that encourage the reader to take part in the learning process.

The authors say that the difference between most organization behavior books and Building Community can be compared to the difference between a lecture and a seminar. The lecture is better for conveying large amounts of information, while the seminar is better for developing skills. The good lecture is interesting and builds knowledge; the good seminar is stimulating and builds competency. Building Community emphasizes the interactive, seminar approach to learning. This book has a broad range of uses, from courses in human relations and organization behavior, to teambuilding applications for virtually any group or organizational setting.

The authors have done exhaustive background research to create a vivid picture of modern society and social implications in the workplace. The research covers historical, sociological, and psychological ideas that are pertinent to building community. Each chapter is supported by the theories of famous thinkers such as Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, Scott Peck, and Peter Senge. All theory and no practical advice make for a dull book, so, along with theories, the authors have made certain to include questionnaires and helpful discussions.

The authors, George Manning, Kent Curtis, and Steve McMillen, have been collaborating and consulting together about workplace issues for over two decades. They state that when individuals learn to value differences, build on each other's strengths, and transcend personal limitations, they can achieve the full potential of community.

The book is divided into four parts including:

Despite the breadth of the material, it is presented in a way that is enjoyable to read and easy to understand--for novices and experts alike. The material is supported by colorful examples and anecdotes.

Each community must have a vision to succeed. In Part 1, the authors discuss the importance of vision. The cornerstones of effective vision are as follows:

The authors explain that a community's vision fulfills four powerful functions: its mission justifies existence; its goals provide direction; its values define acceptable behavior and hold everyone together; and its benefits to stakeholders energize the work.

"When John Kennedy announced a vision to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely, none of the resources needed to do the job were in place. By creating a vision for the American people, Kennedy motivated the technical and scientific community who ultimately accomplished the feat. On another level, but equally visionary, is a manager's goal of fostering cooperation and team spirit that goes beyond the winning of a single game."

Chapter 2 investigates the role of character in building a community. This section explores human values using themes from noted management authors John Gardner and Peter Drucker. Readers can take several quizzes and learn about values and their importance in the community.

Chapter 3 compares traditional organizations with non-traditional organizations. Differences include obedience to authority versus vision and values, homogeneity versus diversity, and autocratic style versus democratic style.

"How do communities become what they are? Who decides if an organization will be enlightened, supportive, impoverished, or exploitative? Although members may have considerable influence, organizational climate is determined primarily by leaders. Those in charge establish the character and define norms of behavior."

The authors refer to the classic management books In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. and New Patterns of Management by Rensis Likert. This chapter contains the four patterns of leadership described in Likert's book.

The second part of Building Community discusses interpersonal skills development. Topics include: effective human relations, communication, interpersonal styles, understanding people, how to deal with difficult people, and the role of civility in building community. This section looks at how to build productive and satisfying relationships among people.

How can a community exist without effective communications? The answer is not very successfully. Chapter 5 contends that communication is the anchoring concept required to build and sustain community. The learning tools in this chapter help readers communicate more effectively. Tips include using the right words, building vocabulary, nonverbal communication and its interpretation, and the art of listening.

Chapter 6 features the role of personality in the community-building process. Personality types are analyzed, and methods for dealing with each type are explained. According to the authors, the three interpersonal styles are traditionalists, participatives, and individualists.

The authors say that differences in personality can lead to mis-communication. You have undoubtedly seen individuals and groups who should be working together smoothly, but are not. Being aware of differences among people is the first step in building new levels of cooperation and more positive interaction.

Chapter 7 explores the personal and social nature of personality, the importance of self-concept, personality structure and dynamics, and personality defense mechanisms.

The book progresses from the individual to a larger social context. Part 3 includes culture and values, social tolerance, and valuing diversity. The authors examine generational, socioeconomic, and cultural differences, as well as cultural influences and how they affect community.

"The different values of different people can enrich a community. But when values collide, communication can break down. Misunderstanding can occur on the job, in the home, and in society at large. What can be done?" The authors have included pragmatic ways of dealing with these issues as well as a self-assessment questionnaire entitled "What are your values--how do you communicate them?" that can be used in discussion groups or as part of a teaching plan.

Chapter 10 offers ways that organizations can deal with diversity. The chapter also includes race, sex, and cultural differences and how they are perceived in the workplace.

The final part of the book looks at group dynamics and the quality movement. The authors discuss the norms of behavior that indivduals should use to help build community and foster group interaction. The influential ideas of psychologist Kurt Lewin are examined as are Douglas McGregor's techniques for tapping into the constructive power of the group.

The hot and very prolific topic of quality is discussed in chapter 13. The influence of W. Edwards Deming and the Fourteen Steps to Quality are investigated in this final chapter. Several other modern management themes such as benchmarking and empowerment also are incorporated into the discussion.

"Increasingly, organizations are focusing on quality as a virtue--quality of products and services for the benefit of customers, and quality of work life for the benefit of employees. In their efforts to achieve quality as an ideal, empowering people and building community occupy center stage."

The authors of Building Community say that completing the book is like completing a journey, and, while the reader will probably be saturated by information toward the end, all of it is concise and cleverly written.

George Manning is professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University and a consultant to business, industry and government. Kent Curtis has served as an administrator and professor of organization development at Northern Kentucky University and has designed numerous employee and management development programs. Steve McMillen is training director for Leadership Development at Thomson Information/Publishing Group. He has consulted for organizations such as AT&T, General Motors and IBM.