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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Sep 30, 2018

When you ask employees about the best thing about the place where they work, they often say "the people". Here are four ideas of how leaders can build connections and collaboration at work.



Welcome to episode 12 of the Leadership Today podcast. My name is Andrew Beveridge, and thanks for joining me.

If you ask employees what they see as the best part about working here you’ll often hear “It’s the people”. Not the pay, not the job, not the location - the people. The need to belong and be connected to others is as powerful a motivator at work as it is in life. It’s what Deci and Ryan in their classic motivational research call ‘relatedness’.

On top of this, research by Google found the two most important factors for team effectiveness are:

  1. Psychological safety - Can we take risks in this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability - Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

Connections matter - people are motivated when they have a sense of belonging - that this is this a place where they can be themselves, where they can help others, and where others are reliable and want to help them.

This need for connections sits in a broader societal context. We are at a point in history where, thanks to technology, people have more connections than ever, while simultaneously feeling more isolated and lonely.  Research shows that on average we have fewer people than ever to depend on when we need help. Sociologists tracked this pattern in America between 1985 and 2004. They saw the number of people that said they had no one at all they could confide in triple over that time, while the average number of confidents people had reduced from three to two.

And our office environments haven’t helped. The open plan offices that were supposed to help build connections turn out to do the opposite. Recent research into two organisations that moved to open plan saw a 70% reduction in face to face conversations, coupled with an increase in email use of between 22% to 50% (). It’s not surprising then that other research demonstrates open plan offices also increase sick leave.

I believe that fostering a culture where people can belong and support each other is at the core of collaboration. And in an environment of ever accelerating change, organisations need collaboration more than ever.

So what can leaders do to help people to feel like they belong?

Here are four suggestions:

  1. Office layouts matter - you want to involve your people in helping to building a physical environment that combines places for quiet reflection and deep work, with other areas that encourage connection and discussion. Making it a personal and warm place will go a long way to help encourage those connections.
  2. Consider agile work principles - people coming together from across the organisation to tackle a problem or opportunity, and then disbanding once that opportunity is advanced or problem solved.
  3. Social connection - just remember that having fun and connecting people with each other is not a waste of time. Have your people generate some ideas around that - what are some ways that we can build those social connections at work.
  4. As leaders, we want to demonstrate those connections, we want to facilitate connections, and we want to discuss the importance of connection - always reinforcing that need to connect.

So in summary, connections matter, not just at work but in life in general. I look forward to hearing some of your ideas of how you’ve built connections at work, and how that’s made an impact on the way you operate.

Well that’s the end of this podcast. I’m looking forward to joining you again next week to discuss another challenge at work, and some practical ideas about things we can do to improve that as leaders.


Links to research in this episode: