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The Art of Community — FitFam

How extraordinary 2020 is can be measured by the extent to which the conventional pattern of human beings is undermined. We struggle to adapt to the new normal, yet our resistance to change or to accept it forces us to stay in that state for longer. Undoubtedly, such change is a test of their resilience for most companies and organizations. News of wage cuts, layoffs, and bankruptcies spread internationally. Although it is impossible to travel around the world as before, we still want to keep the world as our campus learning from those companies and organizations who keep responding actively to the challenges. And COMMUNITY is a thread we find in their midst, as in nowadays VUCA world, people are hungry for a sense of connection.

Based on the book The Art of Community, COMMUNITY is a big word that implies openness, participation, and intention to engage in an environment driven by values. For startups and organizations, it has a powerful inferred meaning that speaks well to the audience. From combating climate change to making hundreds of thousands of electronic products sold out within minutes, they vary in forms and can surround books, movies, products, civil rights efforts, hobbies, and more. No matter what forms they take, most communities share the same feature: people unite around a shared belief or interest and bond with each other by passion.

Started with six friends who were looking to stay active during the long and cold winter of Shanghai in 2015, FitFam provides free and consistent access to quality fitness and wellness.

By 2020
More than 50,000 people participated in China.
Run by over 100 volunteers.
Located in 13 cities internationally.
Accesible to the world virtually.

For larks in the city, there is a want for a boost in energy and mental alertness in the morning before getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of urban life. However, this niche hasn’t raised the interest of fitness businesses in the city.

Before standing on the football field of Luwan, I had no idea what kind of people I was about to meet. What that first training gave, and what those smiles triggered, was an excitement about what is possible when you get people from all walks of life together who share not only an ideal but also a commitment to furthering it, which can be told from FitFam’s manifesto:

All of our sessions provide the opportunity for you to leave your troubles behind for one hour (or more) and focus entirely on pushing yourself to your limits while making new friends and breaking a sweat with a motivating crew. During those 60–90 minutes of exercise, from sunrise to sunset, we are all equal.

From an inspired community member perspective, this article is a collection of observations and reflections about FitFam based on the interview with one FitFam active leader Joseph. We are going to look at both the real case of FitFam and theories from books, extracting keys to building a “sticky” community.

01. Build Belonging

The first time I heard about FitFam, it was difficult to picture a multicultural group doing HIIT exercise in the park at 6 in the morning. By then, I was hunting restlessly for some fitness/yoga center that could offer something more than a “membership” card. However, the disappointment was inevitable as I was searching in the wrong realm.

The reason why in Fitfam dozens of workouts get filled up every day, and why hundreds of people get together for the challenges and events, comes down to one word: belonging, the magical substance that builds strong, enjoyable, and motivated communities.

When you not only feel a sense of belonging, but you also share a very deep and personal connection with other people, the sense of family arises. What people get and contribute to FitFam is beyond physical fitness and health, things greater than each individual and essential for our wellbeing.

“Great communities are built upon great relationships.”

02. Lower Barriersging

To make a sense of belonging seep through the veins of the community, you need to enable community members to feel productive and enjoy the fruits of their labor. When you have smooth processes and infrastructure in your community, it makes the community feel effortless and makes community members feel productive.

FitFam gives a good picture of how a community functions with accessibility and simplicity. The WeChat mini program and groups are used for people in China and Meetup/Facebook for others.

“Anyone with WeChat can join.”

To start, the 1st and only thing you have to do is to use the WeChat mini program to find and register for a nearby offline workout or a virtual one. Once the workout is completed, the leader(s) of that session will check you in.

03. Communication feed the culture

A community by definition is a collection of people who interact together in the same environment. It is not merely the group that generates community, but the interactions within it. The discussion channels are the highways for community communication. In FitFam, each regular workout location has an active WeChat group. People can choose whether to join or not as the WeChat mini program is adequate for functioning while the group chat serves more as a social feature.

The community also means a group of people with different personalities, habits, opinions, and approaches. People can get frustrated with each other, have mismatched expectations, and engage in intense discussions. Other than building the communication highway, we need to demonstrate what is good driving to avoid bad drivers. It is vital to inspire and encourage a baseline quality of communication.

The values of respect and gratitude, which are reinforced every day in those WeChat groups, are the metabolism that keeps the vibe of the FitFam community high.

04. Exemplary Leadership

According to THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE, the five practices of Exemplary Leadership® are to Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. In FitFam, the coaches for the workouts are naturally seen as the leaders. Actively taking part in various races, they have inspired more members from the community to join them. The positive attitude of taking challenges and towards life can be felt strongly in each and all.Source:

Modeling the way means taking actions that influence others to behave and respond in ways that we deem valuable and appropriate for the community. As mentioned before, the communication in FitFam has been incredibly well managed also because the leaders have been providing a consistent example of simple approaches to communication that make the community easy to understand and pleasurable for everyone involved.

All the people who coach on the fields and those who manage the activities, product distribution, and digital content are volunteers. As for Joseph, he joined Fitfam not long after it started and later began to coach as a co-lead, today he is one of the most likable coaches in Luwan and part of the management team of FitFam. According to him, the leaders get rewarded not only with people’s appreciation but also the opportunity to develop themselves physically, professionally, and in their leadership style. Although there is no shortage of books on it, leadership is a complex skill to acquire as it is heavily dependent on who you are. You need to match the approach with what qualities and attributes you already have. There is no better way to develop leadership than leading people. And leadership in the community is more about inspiring people. When you make inspiration on your own, it becomes others’ inspiration.

Behind the scene, the process of becoming a leader, and the leader’s workflow is well supported. You can look inside the FitFam Volunteer Leader Journey Guide if you are interested in giving back after benefiting from the community and your commitment.

05. The Ripple Effect

The story of FitFam began in Shanghai but did not stop here. When two of the leaders moved to Beijing, they brought FitFam there too. Those who have been transformed by the community when they move out of this international city have found like-minded people in their new settlements and brought this free fitness concept and model to the region, from Shanghai to Beijing, Hong Kong, Changzhou, Taipei, Singapore, San Francisco… The ripple effect goes on.

By here, you may have the question of how they sustain. Is it an NGO? If not, what’s the business model behind it?

All the workouts in FitFam are 100% free. Although they don’t need to pay for the venues and volunteers, things like the development and maintenance of the mini-program, website do cost money. Getting sponsorship, selling the branding goods, and organizing some fun challenge events are the ways for them to generate revenue. According to the QUADRUPLE BOTTOM LINE of People, Planet, Purpose, and Profit, FitFam is a social enterprise that embraces all of them.

As a living example of how the social economy works, FitFam is not fitness for free but you pay with commitment and appreciation.

It has shown us one path of being champions of humanity. In the pursuit of equality, success can be achieved by creating an inclusive community, promoting an active lifestyle, and providing free access to quality fitness and wellness for everyone.

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