The first thing that comes to mind when we hear the term, “Community Building,” is a physical neighborhood. But we use the term, “Community Building” in a specific way—a way of being and communicating with each other. So think relationships. Connecting. Feeling a sense of community with others.

Goal: a sense of community

The events and services we offer at Nautilus Leadership Services provide people with the opportunity to experience a sense of community. During a Community Building Experience, participants go through a facilitated group process, using a set of simple guidelines, that help a group move through several stages along the way to the intended destination—a state of consciousness--we call “community.”

Learning by doing

During the process, the group learns by doing, not by lecture or activities. The guidelines encourage individuals to step outside the usual ways of conversing and communicate in a more authentic and personal way. Individuals learn the ways of communicating that build trust and bring people closer together. At the same time, participants also become aware of behaviors and ways of communicating that push people away and may make others feel separate and excluded.

During a Community Building circle, which takes place over two days, a group of individuals experience different phases, each with distinct characteristics. The first two stages are rather familiar for most people, as they reflect many of the ways of being together we experience in daily life. 

Four stages

When the group first begins, people are finding their way and trying to figure out how to relate and what to say to be a part of the group. Most of what is communicated stays pretty general and on the surface. We are sizing up the others in the group. We assess whether we are drawn to someone—or want to avoid them. During this stage people are looking for common ground. We call this stage pseudocommunity, which reflects the fact that the individuals in the group aren’t quite ready to be their authentic selves with each other—yet.

Gradually—and sometimes suddenly-- the group shifts and the “kid gloves” come off. Differences emerge. Individuals stop being so tactful, and begin to say what they really think and feel. We call this stage chaos, and it can seem quite familiar, because life is full of chaos. During this stage, the focus of attention is often on what other people in the group are doing or saying (or not doing or saying) that is unacceptable. Hidden judgments and criticisms may come out.

One of the guidelines is to “hang in” for the duration of the process, which begins to make sense during this stage because chaos is, simply put, uncomfortable. Most groups experience many of the ways that chaos plays out, such as well-meaning attempts to fix or give advice to others. Or to get stuck on a topic. Sometimes people fall into lecturing, or intellectualizing or even trying to organize the group and change the process. Eventually, the frustration of chaos pushes individuals to venture into the next—and most crucial stage.

Emptying, or emptiness, is what we call the next, pivotal stage. Unlike pseudocommunity and chaos, this stage is often new territory for people in the group. The focus of attention moves away from others in the group, and individuals begin to self-examine—and let go of---barriers to communication and community that they may be holding on to. Judgments. Expectations. Pain and grief from the past. Regrets about something said or done within the circle. People express themselves honestly. Bravely. Deeply. Vulnerably. And the entire experience shifts into an open, caring, compassionate space. And out of emptiness, a sense of community is born.

As a sense of community emerges, it is palpable. Laughter and tears live side-by-side. People experience truly being heard and accepted by others. We start seeing each other with “soft” eyes, and a wider and wider window into each other opens. People treat each other with extraordinary respect. Remarkably, a group that is in community with each other is prepared to work together gracefully, effectively and productively.

Or, we can simply be together and truly enjoy and appreciate each other. Looking back, it makes the bumpy road all worth it. In the end, each person in the circle is more prepared to bring the principles and practices learned through the experience back to their relationships, families, workplaces, places of worship and their lives.

Community Building Model

The Community Building model we use and teach was developed by M. Scott Peck M.D. and the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), an educational foundation. Dr. Peck (1936-2005) was a psychiatrist and bestselling author of The Road Less Traveled, The Different Drum, and other works.