Community Facilitator Support Circles: What they are and why we need them
What I most got out of the circle was not feeling alone in the challenges that I face as a community manager. This was one of the comments received after the first "Community Facilitator Support Circle,” which took place last week on Zoom.
The CF Support Circles are a new initiative that aims to support the network of community facilitators/managers of coliving spaces across the world.
They are a direct response to feedback from the Co-Liv Community Manager Masterminds, which included requests for drop-in support. The Circles serve as a space for challenges to be shared and solutions/strategies to be explored among the network of community managers/facilitators (CMs/CFs).
In collaboration with Co-Liv and Sowebuild, Naima from Conscious Coliving will be hosting a series of these facilitated yet co-created sessions over the coming months. She has several years of experience facilitating transformative circles both in-person and virtually.
In this post, we outline:
- The need for thriving communities
- The challenges of facilitating thriving communities
- The role of the community facilitator
- The potential of the coliving industry and how CFs are a part of that
- What makes circles work
- Highlights from the first CF Support Circle
So let’s jump in.
We need thriving communities and living spaces now
We can probably all agree that the current systems and paradigms in which we operate and live in have become increasingly dysfunctional. Increasingly high rates of mental illness, loneliness, natural ecosystem destruction, social inequality, and recurring economic crises are only some of the signs.
Communities can help.
A thriving community is one that facilitates the flourishing of each individual and of the collective.
Thriving communities also nurture trust, which is what allows us to collaborate and co-create the solutions that are needed locally and globally.
And operators of shared living spaces know that the community life experiences can be what makes or breaks their business.
But facilitating thriving communities is no easy feat, as we describe below:
Challenges of Community Facilitation
According to research by Co-Liv and Conscious Coliving, some of the most common challenges that shared living operators face in regards to building community are:
- Weak onboarding and curation processes
- Low engagement levels
- Safety and wellbeing concerns
- Tension and conflict among residents and/or staff
- Operational overload and confusion
- Financial instability
- misunderstanding and/or undervaluing the role of the community facilitator.
Community facilitators/managers are likely to have experienced many of the challenges mentioned above, as well as experimented with approaches for how to overcome some of them.
The Community Facilitator Support Circles are geared towards enabling coliving community builders around the world to support each other through each of the challenges they are currently experiencing.
Community Facilitator: Shaping a New Role in a New Industry
As you will have seen, we use both the terms community facilitator (CF) and community manager (CM). This is because currently community manager is a more commonly-used term, which makes sense since it comes from the hospitality sector, which is the closest sibling industry to the more nascent coliving industry.
Management is a top-down mindset in which the guest experience is decided through the management team’s pre-decided strategies. While a management approach has many positive qualities, authentic community can really only be built through active participation and co-creation by the guests/residents.
“A person responsible for community building by facilitating group interactions and communications and bridging the gap between community needs and operational processes. Their ultimate goal is to support the emergence and maintenance of community by enabling residents to foster authentic connection, fulfill their individual needs and catalyse collective engagement.”
But in reality, the role of community facilitator is a new role in a new industry.
As such there is a huge opportunity to shape the role of the community facilitator. And given the importance of community facilitators/managers in the industry, shaping this role will to a large extent shape the industry as well.
The Potential of the Coliving Industry
As discussed in the Coliving Apps & Tech Guide, The coliving industry is taking off. Google searches and global funding for coliving have been increasing significantly since 2015. In addition, CBRE, JLL, and other big real estate services firms now have specialist coliving departments.
Indeed, coliving has the potential to be a vast industry that serves as a global network of living spaces that foster authentic connection, regenerative principles and thriving community.
The remarkable thing is that this potential can already be seen, felt, and touched. Many coliving spaces such as BHive Living, 20-30 Coliving, Coconat, and Coments are already thinking this way, and, thanks to organizations such as Co-Liv and Coliving Hub, the network between them already exists.
Community facilitators/managers have the opportunity to guide the coliving industry towards creating the living paradigm that we all want and deserve. For this reason, it is more important than ever that spaces such as the CF Support Circles enable them to openly share challenges, exchange wisdom, and co-create solutions.
Below, we share how the CF Support Circles enable this kind of connection and collaboration.
Facilitation and Agreements: What makes Circles Work
The principles of facilitated participation and co-creation are built into Community Facilitator Support Circles. Facilitation allows for co-creation and emergence to happen.
Indeed, the word facilitator comes from the latin word “facil” which means “easy”, and indicates enabling ease and flow rather than forcing or pushing anything. Instead of giving instructions, a facilitator holds space and creates a sense of safety, so that participants feel comfortable enough to express themselves authentically. A good facilitator fosters deep sharing, conversation and connection.
What also makes a circle work are the guidelines that every participant agrees to before the circle begins.
The guidelines/agreements of any circle are as follows:
- Active listening and non judgment
- No coaching or “fixing”
- Speaking from own personal experience
There are many types of circle and every circle can have a different theme and structure.
The structure of the CF Support Circles is described below.
(By the way, circles are one of the most ancient forms of human social interaction. Read more about circles, their history and benefits here.)
The Community Facilitator Support Circles
The structure of the CF Support Circles entails a few participants (in this case the coliving community facilitators/managers) sharing a challenge they have been facing at their coliving space. As a group, we then vote on which one or two challenges are most relevant for all.
We then open the floor for other CFs/CMs to share how this challenge might resonate with their own experience (or not), and any ways they have addressed or overcome it.
Key to emphasize is that, in circle, we are not trying to coach or “fix”. We are simply actively listening to the others’ experience and then sharing from our own relevant experience. If someone has an idea that does not come from personal experience, it is asked to be labelled as such and kept concise.
The point of circles is about connecting authentically and supporting each other from the wisdom of personal experiences, not hypothetical or theoretical dialoguing.
If nothing resonates for someone on a particular topic or challenge, that’s also fine. No one is obliged to share and not everyone has to participate in each round.
Challenges Shared During the First Circle
The challenges that were brought up during the first CF Support Circle are briefly outlined below. We do not include names to honor confidentiality.
1) No space for advanced reservations when residents extend their stay: X coliving has the issue of not having enough space to offer those who book rooms through advanced reservation when current guests who were going to leave decide to stay.
2) Low occupancy: Coliving Y is not meeting it’s occupancy goal.
3) Role overload: The community manager at Coliving Z struggles with wearing too many hats. For instance, some residents refuse to come to the events he invites them to unless maintenance issues have been resolved.
4) Managing common spaces: Coliving P brought up the challenge of managing common spaces in particular in regards to inviting guests from outside the coliving.
If you are a Community Manager/Facilitator and want to join the next Community Facilitator Support Circle, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With lots of co-love,
The Co-Liv Team
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