How to Create Effective — and Community-Building — Affinity Groups

Oct 16, 2013 Posted by

Creating a positive company culture requires an open environment where employees feel welcomed. Sometimes employees feel a greater sense of unity when they bond with those who share common traits or interests. Internal community groups, also called affinity groups, can be leveraged in a very effective way — as long as they’re implemented properly. 

Jonathan Segal, a partner at law firm Duane Morris and contributing editor to HR Magazine, talked recently with Cornerstone OnDemand’s Charles Coy about the benefits of affinity groups and the risks of not introducing them correctly. 

Separation Can Create Inclusion 

The key here is that affinity groups need to foster inclusion as a way of advancing the overall business,” Segal says. “Let’s assume a hospital acquires a physician’s practice. An affinity group could help that physician’s practice integrate and advance the overall business. The irony is, the first step toward integration can be separation.”

Establish Business Criteria

Sponsoring affinity groups becomes risky when employers don’t establish a business criteria, and therefore have unjust reasons for supporting certain groups and not others: “An employer could say, ‘In order for an affinity group to receive aid from the organization, it needs to meet certain business criteria, including advancing the mission of the organization, making the organization stronger and leading to greater inclusion.’”

Talk About Solutions, Not Problems

No. 1: you want to make clear to the affinity group that it’s not a vehicle to raise individual concerns and that there is a complaint procedure if anyone has one. You don’t want someone to share something with an affinity group and then sue the employer later for not addressing it when it was shared in confidence in the affinity group.”

Avoid Mix-Ups with Labor Unions

To keep labor unions and affinity groups separate, Segal suggests companies “make clear that anyone who speaks in the affinity group is speaking on his or her own behalf and is not acting as an employee representative. Ideally, you explain to the union the value of the affinity group and get its buy-in.”

Read more at the Cornerstone OnDemand blog.

Image via Can Stock Photo