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Let’s face it, calling 2020 “a bit of a nightmare” is vastly underselling the horrors that this year has embodied! However, it’s also been a year for reflection and contemplation about what really matters in life. For Owen and Andy, part of that contemplation surrounded the question; how do we make what we know of creativity, collaborative entrepreneurship and coaching have tangible impact? As an organisation, this is one of those fundamental questions that underpin all of our work, especially the work to bring The Exchange centre to life.


Around the same time we were contemplating the universe, it decided to throw us exactly what we needed in the form of Ryan, the co-founder of 5-Towers, Madrid. Ryan reached out to us initially to find out more about creating a TEDx event in his own community. Once we began to talk more in depth, we realised that the community in question was a handful of like minded, motivated, international students living and studying in Madrid, sharing living space, ideas and potential. 


They describe themselves as:


“An environment to take your big ideas from just ideas to massive action in a setting of collaborative entrepreneurship. Accelerated growth and an opportunity to network within the global entrepreneurial environment. Live and remote conferences with leading business experts. Learn how to model their success through listening, sharing, and networking.”


Shortly after our initial conversation Ryan excitedly messaged to say that they’d had an opportunity to meet with funders and that it looked like it would be possible for 5-Towers to expand from one apartment serving 4 students to an apartment block capable of serving up to 100 students by September 2021.

As things move forward with funding and private investment to secure this independent live/work space their thoughts turned to the big question; “how do we open an invitation to anyone who’s interested in joining the live/work space, whilst ensuring that we hold on to the fundamental culture that makes being part of this environment so appealing?” (well, words to that effect at least.)

Great question! 

Our first action was to ascertain how 5-Towers defined their culture. We began to probe a little deeper through one to one interviews with each member of the 5-Towers team to find out exactly what it was that drew them together in the first place. We then explored their shared core values with them to help them really focus in on what matters to them. The outcome being that they wanted to be a deliberately developmental community focused on growth and impact not only for themselves, but for future generations of students and entrepreneurs in Madrid.

Together we worked on mapping their stakeholders with a view to creating a robust recruitment process that created a benchmark for the ideal 5-Towers tenant. We suggested using Belbin Team Profiles as a way to make sure that they brought in people with complimentary mindsets to the existing team and tenants. We discussed how people when confronted with a formal interview process behave in ways that aren’t necessarily how they behave day to day. With this in mind we suggested that their recruitment process, since they are going to be living together, should have an emphasis on social interaction through a shared meal where individual impressions are captured by the team. In larger organisations such as Next Jump, impressions are gathered on new recruits by the whole company during their twice yearly Super Saturday recruitment process, as well as a formal process they measure informal interaction through an app that then compiles profiles about each candidate.

We also explored recruiting outside of their own university to include potential candidates from Mondragon University’s Team Academy Labs (MTA) - Team Academy is a methodology that helps underpin the work we do with communities in the UK. It focuses on developing entrepreneurial skills and mindset through team learning and team business. As a result, MTA may deliver a higher number of recruits suitable to the 5-Towers process. 


In helping 5-Towers to identify their core culture and map their stakeholders we’ve added value to their funding plan as well as helped to link them to networks they hadn’t previously identified. We’re committed to helping them grow into a deliberately developmental community where creativity, collaboration, learning and innovation cultivate impact. 

Colorful Abstract Shape
Colorful Abstract Shape

Key learning:

Define your culture.

Until you know what your core values are it’s difficult to figure out the direction you’re heading in. Creating a shared vision of what you collectively stand for helps breed community and give you a collective direction. When creating any form of deliberately developmental community it’s crucial to understand what you want to achieve together.

Understand your audience.

Much like defining your culture, knowing your audience when creating community is vital. If you are unaware of the landscape within your ecosystem then how can you make sure you’re not treading on someone else's toes? Being able to identify your stakeholders, potential partners and allies is a key factor when moving into any form of developmental work; it’s especially important if you want to build a lasting community relationship.

Make your recruitment robust.

Having a robust recruitment process that uses a variety of tools to help make sure you get the right people should be a top priority when building a cohesive community. The challenge is making sure that you don’t build an echo chamber. Tools such as Belbin Team Profiles help to understand where the strengths and learning edges of potential candidates lie. 

explore the social side.

Building communities, especially when you share confined space regularly, must include space and time to blow off steam. While there is a trend towards 24/7 working and learning it’s essential to factor in down time for your own self care. This can also prove a useful tool when trying to bring together teams and communities as people will behave drastically differently in a formal setting to how they do socially. It’s in the latter environment that you really begin to understand what motivates and drives people.