Connection is critical to teams that really work.
In a previous role, I was the leader of a Co-design and Innovation Lab for a local government authority. Every 12 weeks I would get a new group of people, some ‘freshies’ that would be seconded to the Lab for 3 months. During that time we were given a problem to solve, and by the end of the 12 weeks were expected to have come up with solutions to solve the problem (In a nutshell - there was a little more to it than that, but you get the gist).
My favourite part of the 12 weeks was week 1. It was also the most critical. The focus of that week was always connection. Connection to each other, connection to our purpose and connection to their part in the team.
We would spend the whole 5 days, yes, 5 days (the luxury!), getting to know each other, through various exercises, who we were as people, where we came from, our back stories, our hopes, dreams, aspirations, our failures, our learning's, and the moments that made us, our stories.
This is often viewed as 'the soft stuff' by some leaders. My CEO at the time was not on board at first. Initially, when I said that we would spend the first week building connection, he said "Can’t you do it in a day?" No. Well, we could, but it would be surface connection, and I was all about going deeper. Like a free diver. A controlled decent into what makes people tick, where they have come from, their significant memories, why they think the way they think, what might get in the way, derail, frustrate them, and everything in-between.
Team Connection is a bit like a battery. You need something to earth it to. On it’s own, it won’t work, but when it is connected to something else, something that gives it some energy, it will keep going. And connection creates energy.
When we first take time to get to know our people, their strengths, their back story, what motivates them, what they are passionate about, etc, before we make requests, it builds belonging, connection and trust.
Daniel Coyle in his book ‘the culture code - the secrets of highly successful groups’ Group Performance depends on behaviour that communicates ‘We are safe and connected”.
When you know who your people are, as a person, everything is easier. Difficult conversations are easier, reward and recognition is easier, conversation is easier, everything is easier.
There is a level of care that builds when you start to really get to know people. Your role as a leader, first and foremost is to care about people. If you don’t care about people, you should not be in a leadership role. It’s that simple.
The best leaders are the ones that care about people and put people ahead of themselves.
When teams really know each other, it builds a level of trust that means when the tough times happen, they’ve got each others backs. And you can feel it.
I reckon that before we make requests of our people, we should make friends with them first. Get to know them, hear them, ask them about their lives outside of work. The benefits are all positive.
1 Learning: Connection builds trust, belonging and safety.
1 Opportunity: How well do you know your team? I mean really know your team? Is there an opportunity to build a more deeper connection, with an individual, or with the whole team? Is there someone in particular that you don't really know much about?
1 Action: At your next team meeting, try a 'round the room' opener of 2 questions:
How many siblings do you have and where are you in the birth order?
What is one event from your childhood that impacted you in some way?
You'll be surprised by what you learn.