Creating Connection Among Team Members
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what connects us. Connection can feel like this magical spark, this intangible thing we can’t quite put our finger on or replicate. I do this all the time with groups - help the magic of connection emerge - yet when I was trying to come up with some secret sauce, some formula for connection, my theories always fell apart upon closer inspection.
There Are Many Ways To Create Connection
Sometimes, connection can be influenced by the depth of a question asked, while other times, it’s the quality of our listening. Sometimes it’s the dedicated time spent (especially when there are other places to go ), while other times, it seems to spring up instantly. Perhaps it’s a small service or gift given freely, or it could simply be our very presence without needing to say a word.
Connection can be made over a shared language in a foreign country, an inside joke, or liking the same unusual sandwich combination. Sometimes it can be remembering someone’s name or a story they once told you. Other times, it’s hearing what’s not said or understanding them even when they haven’t spoken aloud. Or it can be the shared experience of an observed situation unfolding.
Perhaps, it’s realizing what Maya Angelou said...
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
Author, Poet and Activist
Connection Is Crucial In Every Aspect Of Life
While the exact formula for connection may be impossible to pin down, we can’t deny its importance.
Science has long heralded the importance of oxytocin (often dubbed “the love hormone”) in forming social bonds. But the latest research using Prairie Voles (known for complex social structures, monogamy, and their love of cuddling) shows that even without oxytocin, they’ll still connect, cuddle, and form bonds because connection is so essential to the survival of the species the brain finds a way.
There’s no denying that humans are also social creatures and that forming relationships with one another is just as vital for us.
At work, social bonds are important because they:
- Improve communication and trust.
- Enhance team cohesiveness and collaboration.
- Encourage teamwork and support.
- Increase job satisfaction and motivation.
- Lead to higher levels of creativity and innovation.
- Help manage conflict and resolve differences.
Our suggestion is to find common ground or a shared interest and make that the focus.
One of my friends and old business schoolmates recently got a promotion. I was so thrilled for him that I wanted to reach out and reconnect.
I remembered when he and his family visited my home (a shared experience) after his family had so graciously welcomed me in India. His uncle was one of the warmest, kindest individuals I’ve ever met. And even though there hadn’t been many commonalities between my father and my friend’s uncle, they hit it off instantly with their love of family (shared value) and mutual interest in learning more about different cultures (shared interest). It gave me a great memory to reach out and share with my friend as I congratulated him on his promotion.
Be Deliberate About Connecting
It’s easy to get caught up with the project in front of us or the work at hand and forget to just spend time connecting. It’s important to be deliberate about this and find ways to connect often rather than only doing a one-day off-site once a year; try making time to connect at every meeting. Even a few quick minutes will go a long way.
One of my favorite managers, K, did this beautifully. We met as a leadership team once a week. And even when we had fires to fight (proverbial, of course!), new organizational priorities, and initiatives to introduce, she made time for connection. We invariably met over something to eat or drink, depending on our meeting time. And the first question was how were we, or what was new.
This ten minutes of personal conversation connected us, and it moved us from where we were coming in, strengthened our trust in one another, bonded us as a unit, and helped us be present, open, and curious. This time to connect allowed us to show up with creativity and innovation and contributed to the success of our collaboration.
Managers can help create connections by:
- Fostering open and effective communication.
- Promoting a positive and inclusive team culture.
- Recognizing and valuing strengths and contributions.
- Encouraging team-building and bonding exercises.
- Creating a supportive and collaborative work environment.
- Creating a common mission and vision and communicating it often.
Work Together On A Goal
When we work together on a goal or when we’re recognized or rewarded for a group effort, we are oriented differently - towards the common good. And it’s good for business.
One of the things I often see in the leadership teams I work with is that the teams that are the most connected are passionately aligned around a common mission. They’re clearly united in a goal, around an intention, or in pursuit of a particular vision.
This is most obvious with the non-profits I support. Even a shared remit can create connections across a department, function, or task force.
I experienced this at Microsoft when the company began to track and reward Customer Experience. An inspiring future was envisioned and shared, dedicated resources were put in place, and teams were united in their understanding of the next steps.
This created new connections throughout the organization, particularly across and between functions. Even more importantly, new connections were formed with customers, and these relationships were deepened through surveys, group meetings, focus groups, and site visits. Business and personal connections were forged during these listening tours. And relationships were further deepened when customers saw action in response to what was learned through these connections.
In the workplace, we have common goals, a shared culture/environment, and even overlapping values. The key to connection, if there is one, is to find all the ways in which we are alike and use that as a bridge to one another. That bridge, that shared humanity or shared goal, can then make it so much easier to celebrate and appreciate our differences too.
If you’d like help with the design, planning, and/or facilitation of a day designed to help your team members connect, we’d be happy to help with off-the-shelf options or something completely customized with different topics and modalities.