January 15th, 2019 marked the 10th-anniversary celebration for SF Toastbusters, an International Toastmaster club based in San Francisco, California.
Days leading up to the event was one filled with excitement, an overabundance of emails, and a whole lot of anxiety as the guest list continued to fill up.
5:05 PM: In a relatively small room underneath the towering buildings of San Francisco, the club president along with a few members began the process of preparing the celebration.
5:15 PM: We were setting up the seating structure, testing slide shows, preparing our speeches, and taking nervous restroom breaks.
5:45 PM: Tensions began to skyrocket (at least for me) as numerous amounts of people walked through the doors of the Google Community Space in spite of the harsh weather.
6:00 PM: A slew of, “Good to see you!”, “How are you these days?” ensues as many people come together for the first time in several months to several years! It was a beautiful sight to see.
6:10 PM: Time to show what SF Toastbusters was all about. The members of SF Toastbusters were ready to put on an unforgettable night.
"Hello everyone! Welcome to SF Toastbusters!"
If I could personally sum up the entire meeting in one word, it would be:
Grateful for the past and present members who made and make the club what is it today. And thankful that SF Toastbusters has been a massive catalyst of positive change to so many people.
"SF Toastbusters is a community..."
– echoed by our very own superstar Toastmaster of the Decade, Wilson Chu.
Indeed, a community it is, and a fantastic one at that. But what makes SF Toastbusters the wonderful community that many past and present members claim it to be?
In the past, I’ve visited other Toastmaster groups in the bay area and was fully involved in one aside from my current club at SF Toastbusters.
I was also once part of a large religious group that took community living to, for lack of better words, a “whole new level.” In other words, they crafted a stellar community compared to that of a modern-day village in the midst of our current individualistic culture.
My workplace also has a community of its own that is often admired by others from the outside looking in by other envious departments.
You can probably say I’ve had various experiences with different kinds of people in multiple communities.
Though I wouldn’t know a good community if I also have never been with the worst of them. I’ve been a part of terrible, toxic communities where you can feel the dread as you walk within ten feet of it, wondering to yourself,
"What's going on? Why am I even here? God help us."
So then, what makes a fantastic community versus a good or bad one? Here are five ways to cultivate a culture that leads to the ideal community.
1. Established Focused Goals
Where’s the direction of the community going? What’s the purpose?
Without an established direction, there’s no community, only a population of people in a meeting space.
A community always has a defined purpose and direction. In the world of Toastmasters, it’s practicing leadership and fostering public speaking skills in a safe environment.
For SF Toastbusters, our specific goals are to not only develop ourselves in these ways but to manifest a culture that allows for comfort, fun, and personal engagement, without having to take ourselves too seriously. We desire a club culture that will enable people to enjoy their time being there rather than dreading it.
Where do they want to see themselves in a given time?
With hard, defined goals comes a sense of urgency, and most importantly, action.
Each Toastbuster officer meeting that we have as a club lays out the foundations of our goals for the rest of the term and begs the question, what’s the “deadline” for all of this.
That deadline begets action, and action is what keeps the club moving forward. The next question is then, what are the specific steps to this action that would result in achieving our goals?
Get to brainstorming, then get to work on it together, bringing us to our next point.
2. Personal Engagement: small groups, mentorship, and cheerleaders
Smaller, intimate groups
Introverts such as myself aren’t going to thrive being mentored or coached in a broader public setting. My growth generally comes in both forms. I’ll enjoy learning in a larger crowd, and then taking action or having a discussion within a smaller group setting.
In my old my religious community, we met with over five to seven hundred people at one time to listen and learn. Afterward, we gathered in smaller groups of about three to six people to discuss and mentally engage with what we learned with a group leader who facilitated the discussion.
This enabled me to better engage with my ideas as well as hearing from others with a similar mindset and background.
We determined step by step action plans for a specific kind of change we wanted for ourselves and held one another accountable for those actions.
One on one mentorship
Those who come into a community are generally looking to learn and grow in some way. They’re there for a purpose, which needs a form of guidance and direction.
Someone who is thoroughly versed in the typical ways the community and operates along with the vision and goals would take new people “under their wing” and lead the way for them.
A great mentor would allow for newer people to feel comfortable and be able to jump right into the action without having to navigate unfamiliar territory on their own.
No one takes a swimming lesson without an instructor.
Feeling a part of something, rather than observing from the sidelines
People aren’t going to stick around a community if they aren’t engaging within the community. Cheerleaders for a football team aren’t going to feel the pride and joy of a touchdown as much as the football player who put their blood, sweat, and tears into getting through that end-zone.
Active involvement helps people know that their work is going beyond themselves for the “greater good” of the community.
I think what communities often mistake themselves in is not giving a chance for newer people to jump into the action, or at least, to be involved in some small way that gets them involved.
I once hated my religious community because even in the latter part of the first year I was with them, I wasn’t encouraged to help out with any tech equipment takedown (there are reasons to this, but in hindsight, I wasn’t fond of it).
In contrast, one of our newest members, Michael, in SF Toastbusters, could thrive at such a faster rate because he decided to run as an officer for our club. Essentially, the role forced him to take the club seriously and to be a part of our community as he engages and interacts with other people in his officer role.
3. Constant Changes = Constant Growth
There’s a reason why companies make changes and move around. Being stagnant is dangerous.
Or, just as important, look at it in an organizational stand-point. People need to move around, and you need new managers, seating structures, whatever. Doing this creates a little discomfort that entices a sense of growth.
Growth only occurs through discomfort.
Can’t see it? Let’s narrow in on yourself within a company. You could go to work, day in and day out without any desire to grow within the company. Instead of trying to better yourself, you go in, get the same old task completed, and move on with your life.
This is the reason why robots are going to replace us someday folks!
Changes keep people on their toes, learning new things, and going beyond their comfort zone for the opportunity to grow and thrive.
Can’t take my word for it? Look at Blockbuster or even that one company camera company that wouldn’t go digital (what was it called again? Exactly).
For instance, Blockbuster had the chance to buy out Netflix, but instead, they passed. This, of course, led to their demise.
As the times change, people change, and we need to adapt, improvise, and keep up to par with societal culture. Or better yet, BE THE CHANGE.
The most dangerous situation you can find yourself in is having no idea which direction you’re going in.
There’s no such thing as a plateau
A plateau at any organization becomes doomed for death and destruction.
If you’re a company that remains the same throughout as the world around you is changing, then you’re going to be in a terrible place. While everyone is ten steps ahead, you’ll become my Asian mother who doesn’t use the dishwasher other than to dry clean plates (yes, this is a thing).
Rather than being a proponent of changes like Apple, or embracing the new-age world of digital like Netflix, you’ll be the definition of insanity. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
At the very least, if you’re aware you aren’t doing well, you can make drastic changes to improve. However, plateaus are like a deadly snake, patiently waiting for you to walk into its trap and snatch you when you least expect it.
You did it to yourself Blockbuster.
4. Taking Each Other Seriously
Opinionated voices shall be heard
Voices need to be heard and acted upon if necessary. That could mean a simple response. There’s nothing more dreadful than having someone outright ignore you.
Great CEOs will listen to their customer or employees if there’s a problem and take action to change it. Terrible CEOs will think they have everything perfected. That’s when I want Gordan Ramsey to come in and yell at them, just like how he does it in Kitchen Nightmares.
At the end of every Toastmaster meeting, there’s a general evaluator that comes up after the meeting to talk about the overall flow of the meeting. They decide what has been positive about the meeting and what needs improvements.
Then, potential changes are made based on what they suggest, making the club a little better than before.
Of course, there isn’t always going to be agreements made, which brings us to a culture of respect.
Having a culture of respect
What’s great about my work community is that the opinions of others are seen with the utmost respect.
What I’ve observed with successful communities is that everyone is on an equal playing field. No one person is better than the other. Everyone has the right, and the opportunity to speak their mind without a verbal backlash.
This openness creates an atmosphere of trust and comfort that would enable everyone to put in their ideas and suggestions that would make the club better as well as fostering a positive culture for change in our group.
And as we mentioned before, changes are good.
No one is left behind
From the several amazing communities I’ve been a part of, they have a culture where individual success is accounted for.
Individual success is a reflection of the community.
At SF Toastbusters, we notice who stays and goes for both guests and members. If they leave, we don’t dwell on it for too long, but we’re curious about where people are because we care. We care for their well-being and whether or not they’re reaching the best they could be, and what we can do to help in any way possible.
5. Most importantly: Vision
Being “a part” of the vision.
The vision of the community is the ultimate foundation of how the club wants to leave their legacy.
Toastbusters, take pride in the vision of having a fun, engaging, and accepting community from all walks of life to come together and personally develop ourselves and one another so that we can be the best that we can be in our endeavors.
Grounding that vision earlier on in everyone.
As soon as guests walk through the doors of our club, we ensure that they know what we’re all about our interactions of the meeting.
I love having guests attend our meetings because it reminds me of the club culture that we have as we crack jokes and laugh at the cringy, awkward mistakes that we make (like showing a slideshow that I made for my girlfriend to purchase an electric bike).
Seeking to attain that vision with everyone on that ship
A vision is like being on a ship in the middle of the ocean with everyone going in the same direction to a particular destination. If one person isn’t “on board” (no pun intended), then it will create some form of chaos. Maybe even leading to outright rebellion.
In my religious community, we had plenty of people who didn’t want to join in on the vision, leading some to rebellion, verbal toxicity amongst peers, and in my case, depression.
At SF Toastbusters, we inform guests there are other clubs out there with different times, culture, sizes, and demographics. We do this for the sake of being transparent so that guests know that other clubs may do things differently. Therefore if they decide to choose SF Toastbusters as their club, they’re doing so because they want to take part in our vision.
We have to accept the reality that not everyone will be on that ship with us, and it’s our duty to ensure that they find that vision for themselves.
Bonus – A Great Leader
A ship without a captain is bound for destruction.
On this night, Wilson, our dedicated “OG” of the club aka, our mentor, leader, and advisor, was rightfully awarded the
“Toastmaster of the Decade” award.
Wilson has been a detrimental member to our club’s success in every way possible. He’s involved in every step of our success and ensures that we’re ALL involved in our own way so that we can be amazing Toastbusters through and through.
Wilson has been committed to this club for several years and leads it with pride and humility as he sees people come and go. His mission is for not only himself but for others to experience the positive impact within the SF Toastbusters community as we continue to move forward, together.
Because if there’s one thing that we can’t do, it is to become a success alone.