Levi Baer is a community builder, a team facilitator, an organizational change strategist, and was previously a nationally ranked Settlers of Catan player. He believes in using studied theories and real-life experiences to uncover the powers of effective team building, engagement, and collaboration. He is currently the community manager at Workshop Chicago; leads the Chicago communities, Coffee & Conversation and Game Night Chicago; and runs his own consultancy. His favorite superhero is Spiderman, and his current favorite board game is The Castles of Burgundy.
On creating an organic community, Coffee & Conversation:
The origins of Coffee & Conversation are pretty simple. Levi sent out a call for other people to join him on Saturday mornings for some productivity. He wasn’t looking to focus the group on entrepreneurship, but there was a natural overlap. What started as a casual Saturday morning meetup has turned into a group of regulars and newcomers sharing ideas and collaborating on projects and businesses.
“If you keep providing the opportunities, then there will be people that show up every time. If there’s alignment of values, common interests, and take aways, then the community will be built around that. When you do that regularly and consistently, people start to show up every time.”
“We didn’t’ have a space, we didn’t have a name – just people showing up.”
In the year that Coffee & Conversation (“C&C”) has been around, they’ve already seen the positive output of like-minded people collaborating across unlikely spaces. For example, two C&C members were able to help each other by combining their expertise in immigration services and language study. As a result, Mobile Language School created a class that combined language learning with cultural food experiences.
On community-building in organizations:
So how do you take the concepts and results experienced in unstructured organic environments and apply them to structured hierarchies of organizations?
“The importance of building a community in an organization is a big question. It is about applying the values of collaboration and face to face communication. We need to push the boundaries of traditional work spaces where there is usually a competitive work environment of trying to get promotions and recognition that translates into, ‘I need to do better than the person next to me.’ Community building turns that on its head and makes you think about what you can do if resources are unabashedly being shared and if people aren’t afraid of giving up their ideas to the greater good of the group.”
“Community building creates happy, productive, effective spaces. It improves effectiveness, retention and in turn, the bottom line”
Levi applies his formal and informal education to produce products and frameworks which he uses in client and consulting settings. For example, Insight is a card game that he invented to facilitate team building, interaction and idea sharing. He is currently working on refining an additional product derived from his more recent community-based research with C&C.
“Community and collaboration is a big challenge. But I think it is surmountable by organizations who are interested in doing so.”
On effective communication:
Effective collaboration and teaming relies heavily on effective communication. “I’m not alone in being sick of emails. They’re so inefficient. It’s about discovering and boosting other methods of communication that are out there and trying to have a more real and genuine interaction. Whatever one you’re using, just make it the best. You can make anything meaningful on any platform.”
“Look for a tool that facilitates interaction while letting individuals pick their own level of engagement.”
One of his current favorites is Slack.
Outside of his community projects and consulting development, Levi tries to live each moment with intention. “I do everything with intention, for both the big and small choices in my life. I put a lot of thought into all of it. It’s the small things you do and how you act when nobody is looking that defines you.”