Create Space For Deeper Connections

Connected Teams, Conscious Leadership, Future-Focused Leadership, The Future of Work

How can we create space for deeper connections? There is so much power in connection - something extraordinary happens when we come together, united in purpose.

Why did hundreds of millions of people (some reports are citing billions) from around the world stop what they were doing to watch the live broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's funeral? 

And why did people stand in a queue snaking down the Thames for up to 24 hours to pay their respects, describing it as a profound once-in-a-lifetime experience? Beyond her extraordinary life of duty and service, what was it about the Queen's death that touched us all so deeply?

I was really surprised at how emotional I felt during the ten days of mourning until I realised I felt it most when I was witnessing how it had brought everyone together. It struck me that in her death, the Queen allowed us to experience the antithesis of what we fear we're in danger of becoming; a society divided and polarised.

When we think of the tricky times we've been through over the last few years and what's to come, we realise we need to be way more intentional and purposeful about getting and staying connected to one another.

And yet, we're witnessing and experiencing a fragmentation of connection in our teams, our corporate cultures, our places of work and where we call home. We've seen this emerge over the last year in global trends including "the great migration" and "the great resignation".

You've probably also seen a meme on "quiet quitting" making the rounds, which is clearly resonating with people around the world. We're on the move, searching for new environments, new places to call work and home, which better reflect the lives we want to live.

And in our working lives, at the centre of all of this are our teams, the groups of people we work with on an ad hoc basis and our corporate cultures. As we think more deeply about where and how we work and what keeps us connected, we're faced with more questions than answers.

What's the impact on teams and people?

I was talking to a client recently and we were exploring getting her team re-connected. Her company, a global organisation in financial services, changed their rules of engagement during the pandemic. Today, employees can work from anywhere and many of her team members have moved far away from the office. To add to the sense of distance, employees are able to join meetings sans camera and as long as your performance is up to scratch, all is good.

And yes, this sounds like a fabulous idea - we're remote or hybrid working and we’re all Zoom/Teams fatigued. However, as with all decent ideas put into practice during extraordinary circumstances, there are downsides. Her team never get to see the whites of each other's eyes, read each other's body language or feel they are occupying the same space as one another at the same time. My client told me her team meetings are like talking into the abyss, week in, week out.

Worse still, employees are missing out on a vital part of their business lives: being connected and feeling seen, heard and valued. This is playing havoc with their sense of belonging, which is a critical factor in building team and organisational cultures we want to be a part of. They're also missing out on serendipitous encounters and informal chats, which often lead to collaborating on new ideas and innovative ways forward.

The trouble is, the company is now in a position where they don't feel they can do anything to dial this back a notch or two. Today, getting a team together means losing a day, possibly two, flying them in, putting them up in a hotel and picking up their expenses. Costs and time constraints that just weren't there before.

The reality is, we’re all hardwired for connection, it’s the glue that's enabled human beings to advance in a myriad of ways and to survive wars, droughts, famines and yes, pandemics.

When we think of the impact beyond our teams and into our working or project groups and all of our stakeholders, we begin to get a sense of the systemic unravelling of the ties that bind us and the profound impact it's having.

What's the impact on culture?

There is definitely something in the adage that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Our corporate cultures are so much more than a common mission, vision and a set of values. They're a system of beliefs and behaviours we encounter and enact day-to-day.

Culture frames how we experience our organisation and our place within it. It reflects how we show up and get things done. Its immense power lies in creating and nurturing a sense of belonging and a deeper, meaningful connection to a greater purpose and one another.

Years ago, when I worked in Executive Search, we were retained by a major consultancy to hire the C-Suite for a new corporate venture - a digital strategy consultancy. Fortunately, my client had deep pockets, however, the brief wasn’t terribly expansive or creative. All they wanted were McKinsey (ideally), Bain or BCG people.

The trouble was, the cultures in their hunting ground were so robust, we couldn’t find a decent hook to get people to leave. They were paid handsomely, were constantly learning and growing, felt their organisations took care of them and their families and were deeply connected to one another and the corporate values and purpose. Whatever our views of these organisations, they nailed the culture bit. Being part of something, feeling motivated to give more of ourselves and being committed to staying only happens when the conditions are right.

Interestingly, Daniel Pink’s research, which underpinned his book “Drive” discounts money as our primary motivator (assuming we pay people fairly) and points us to three things that truly motivate us; autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is all about having a level of self-direction - the ability to explore new ideas and ways forward. Mastery is about learning and getting better at doing what you do and purpose is all about feeling connected to something that lines up with what you value in life.

This new era of flexibility around 'where and how' we work has forced us all to step back, reevaluate and reimagine what brings us together and keeps us connected. How can we foster diverse cultures to support the future we are all co-creating? What are the mental models leadership teams need to foster cultures we want to be part of?

Most importantly, how can we create space for meaningful connections - the lifeblood that keeps it all going?

Intentional spaces for deeper connections...

During the pandemic, we ran a series of “Time to Pivot” open sessions, which were designed to crowdsource ideas to support people to re-engineer their products, services, operating systems or even careers into something novel and more sustainable. We've since redesigned our offering into a powerful, relevant format that best suits the challenges teams are experiencing today in what we call Connected Teams.

We learned a great deal from our sessions during the pandemic. We desire deeper connections with one another and really appreciate the space to be seen, heard and valued for who we are. We want to talk about what we’re up to and what interests us - and we relish finding new ways to collaborate and having an engaged sounding board to run ideas by.

We designed Connected Teams to do all of this and have the added benefits of being facilitated and closed, which is really important when it comes to fostering psychological safety and trust in teams, working or project groups. We’ve created a space to allow participants’ diverse thinking, perspectives and experience to emerge and for each person to be seen and heard and the results are heartwarming.

I recently ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people how they are going about building their informal networks and the results were really interesting. It seems we're quite happy (and in many cases even prefer) connecting online, which is fortunate as virtual meetings and events are here to stay. However, the common caveat was that the event or space needed to be well-designed to allow for meaningful connections to occur. Oh, and cameras need to be on, which makes perfect sense.

Our experience over the last few years has given us incredible insight into what can be achieved when we work well, together. We’ve accomplished extraordinary things during tricky times. On the flip side, it has also highlighted glaring weaknesses, potential blind spots and an urgent need for us to create deeper, more authentic connections with one another.

Brené Brown says it best:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Get in touch if you'd like to book a Connected Teams session for your team.

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