It’s Stress Awareness Month this April and this year’s theme is Community.


When you think about Community and Stress do you feel that stronger sense of Community post-lockdown?


This is something that many of us have experienced and valued over the past 2 years.


Our awareness of how being part of different Communities supports our wellbeing and happiness and reduces stress has been rekindled.  This is not a new discovery, but we had perhaps lost sight of it.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) put understanding our values at the heart of their Guide to Doing What Matters in Times of Stress [1] .  This reminds us how important our values are in shaping who we want to be and how we show up in the Communities we engage with.


You may now feel more aware of the social Communities that you are a part of and how your engagements are informed by your values, but I have a question for you.


Why do we need to focus on our professional Communities? 


We have seen all industries experience increased pressure to innovate, to introduce new technologies and to deal with increasingly complex and ambiguous challenges.


If you are not already actively investing in your professional development, the Future of Jobs Report estimates that 40% of employees require upskilling of up to 6 months[2], and this only relates to skills.


Deloitte[3] describe a future ready workforce as one that is ready for ‘whatever comes’.  Professional Communities can help us to  play an active part in the changes ahead by forecasting trends and learning within a diverse and supportive network.


Learning and developing in professional Communities, a form of social learning, can be highly effective.  Social Learning Spaces are diverse in form and structure but are, ‘about people finding learning partners with whom they can get better at making a difference’[4].


You may find that learning in professional Communities helps you stay accountable, to commit regular time to your development, and share wisdom gained through your own professional journey.  They are often very grounded in practice.


I belong to a handful of professional communities, including the Co-Creation Strategy Group, which is vibrant, thoughtful, and resourcing.  I have discovered that I need many of the same things from my professional Communities as I do from my social Communities.


Which professional Communities are right for YOU?




If you are considering the right type of professional Communities for you, or looking to develop those you are already an active part of, maybe take a moment to ask:



  • Do I feel a sense of belonging here or could this develop in the next 3-6 months?
  • What am I bringing to this Community that its members value?
  • What learning / professional development need(s) am I seeking to fulfil and how do they fit with the Community’s purpose?
  • Are there opportunities to engage in dialogue, learn together, and innovate in areas that are important to me?
  • Are there opportunities to make personal connections, for example via social activities, co-working and collaborations?


Developing this approach has been a real learning curve for me.


When I saw this year’s theme, I thought about my professional journey since leaving an organisation and global Community after 20+ years to set up my own business.


When you work for a large, complex organisation, your professional Communities can become a bit insular.  Keeping up with strategy and priorities across different departments and countries, taking a deep dive into change and improvement programmes during which you uncover thriving Communities that you had previously been unaware of within the wider organisational system.


My focus became very ‘internal’ and when I left I suddenly felt a little lost.


My response was to:



  • hastily look around at what others were doing
  • take advice from business owners and people who appeared successful
  • seek out marketing advice and read around the subject


I tried everything:



  • breakfast meetings before I had woken up enough to think straight
  • lunchtime networks
  • womens networks
  • CPD networks run by professional bodies
  • business federations and regional networks


I was doing so much to develop my professional networks that I had to be successful.


The result?


Hundreds of business cards and feeling stressed, exposed and uncomfortable.  I put so much pressure on myself to ‘get out there’ and connect professionally in any available way.  The outcome was that most of the things I tried were a bad fit for me, which led to very little learning and growth.


That is not to say that they were not great networking and professional communities for some, but they were not right for me.


I had no one to answer to except my clients and they seemed to like what I delivered.  I had set about doing what I thought business owners ‘should’ do without consciously connecting with who I am, my strengths and values and how I like to develop my professional relationships.


If I had stopped to think about this, I would have taken a very different approach to building my professional communities and nurturing my existing ones and had a much less stressful first year in business.


It is perhaps not surprising that I now spend much of my time supporting individuals and teams to really understand and connect with their strengths, values and core purpose to inform how they want to lead in their businesses.


How healthy are your professional Communities? 


For some there have been many opportunities to engage more widely with professional Communities during the pandemic with an incredible increase in virtual networking and learning opportunities.  But there have also been losses.


When we speak to our many clients across Co-Creation Group we understand that more silo working may be emerging in some teams, with a sharp reduction in informal learning, end of project evaluations and sharing of best practice.


Those quick conversations whilst you make your coffee and the overheard office chats which used to contribute so richly to our social learning have disappeared.  We may be still learning and developing professionally, but more of this may be happening individually rather than in Communities.


What might the implications of this be in 6-12 months time?


If you feel that your professional Communities could be improved and that you would benefit from thinking about how these Communities can support your growth, commit to 1 or 2 things to take a step forward.


Take action to improve your professional Communities


You could start with adapting my questions or develop your own.  My learning is that it all starts with really understanding yourself, your needs and wants and what you bring to your professional Communities.


I’m lucky enough to have made friends for life in some of my professional Communities.  I know that this blurs the edges between social and professional but it seems to be what I need.  These peer relationships have endured beyond the Communities in some cases.


I now run my own Community for leaders who want to share experiences and learn and solve problems across industries and countries.


If you have not yet found the right professional Communities to meet your needs, why not build one around your own values.


When we remember who we are and how we want to show up in the Communities we engage with we avoid stress and find ourselves resourced, energised and ready to learn and grow.


If you want to know more about how we can support you and your organisation, drop us a line at



[1] 2020, World Health Organisation


[2] 2020, World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report


[3] 2022, Deloitte, Building the Future Ready Workforce


[4] 2020, Wenger-Trayner. E. and Wenger-Traynor B., Learning to Make a Difference.  Value Creation in Social Learning Spaces