Humans are social animals.
We need human connection and we thrive when relationships are working well for us. This is not some millennial thing or the latest leadership fad. This has always been a basic human need. 2,300 years ago, the great philosopher Aristotle shared many views on this, and claimed that those that claim to be self-sufficient, and do not thrive from living socially, are either beasts or gods. So, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us are not beasts or gods and enjoy feeling part of a community.
But human connection in groups doesn’t always work. Think of the different groups of people you are part of; the work colleagues in your department, the people in the gym you go along to, even your extended family. Just because you are part of the group does not always mean you will connect and enjoy your time with them.
We can’t always put our finger on it, but in some circles we are part of, “it just doesn’t feel right”. You’re not feeling a connection in this group. They are nice people. They’re friendly. But we’re not on the same page.
And sometimes is does work. You are lucky enough to find a group of people that you really connect with. You connect on a deeper level. Something feels special about the group and you just all gel together really well. Similarly, you can’t put your finger on what it is, but something just “feels right”.
Why do some groups connect, and others struggle?
First, we need to look beyond the superficial stuff, such as, we get on well and we have a laugh. There is more to human connection than this.
I’m lucky enough to have been part of teams that I have felt a connection with and as a collective performed well. I know what good feels like, as I’m sure you do. I have also led teams where we’ve formed and had to work hard through the challenges of building the connection, and I will be honest with you. Historically, I have mostly failed at this. Not through lack of effort, but not really understanding the magic ingredients needed.
What I’m about to share is not theory. It’s not something I have read in a book or seen on YouTube and decided to regurgitate to make myself look good. I have successfully launched and turned around many teams over the past 30 years. I have learned the hard way. Lots of throwing myself in at the deep end learning from mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Over the years the mistakes have gotten less and now I would say I have a good understanding of the psychology of a good team.
What magic ingredients does a team need to thrive?
High performing teams that consistently achieve great results are built on solid foundations. They connect at a deeper human level. When facilitated and led well a deep connection can be established (or recovered) in around 3-6 full days together. And when you do, you will experience the following characteristics:
- Openness. High performing teams are completely open with each other and share everything about who they are, both personally and professionally. Showing levels of vulnerability that most within the group would claim, “I have never told anyone else this stuff, just you guys”. No holding back, they go all in and share warts and all. It’s such a privilege when you get to this level.
- Challenging. They respectfully feedback and challenge each other. They create a psychologically safe space first. And when you have this in place you can dial up the challenge. To the point of discomfort and often causing a lot of wriggling in seats, but with good intention and the team’s best interests at heart. You know the kind of feedback. It touches a nerve. You get defensive and push back. But it’s the truth and you can’t get it out of your head for days and weeks. That kind of feedback.
- Intuitive. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed and do well. No jealousy. No competitiveness. Genuine encouragement from the rest of the group. Even when you don’t believe it yourself, the group are there to give you a boost when you need it most. Everyone has each other’s backs.
- Caring. The relationships reach a level that is so deep that the group can pick up on ‘what’s going on’ without words. You start to understand each other so well that you almost gain a sixth sense. When you connect with people at a deeper level, you don’t need words, you just know. For anyone that is or has been married, or has lifelong friends you will know what I mean by this.
- Relaxed. Because there is no jockeying for position or fear of being exposed on something, people just let their guard down and relax. They trust the rest of the team and feel safe. You can just have an open dialogue about anything without being judged. And a relaxed team that are motivated and connected will reach high levels of performance. You will certainly reduce your odds than you would with a stressed and anxious team that are not motivated.
These characteristics are demonstrated by teams that have built a deep connection and have made it work for them. And I can assure you this is not just fluffy stuff. Teams that are more engaged and connected massively outperform dysfunctional teams. Does your group or team have the above characteristics? Do you know what is working well and what is missing?
How could you build a high performing team that connect at a deeper level and thrive as a result?
For starters everyone needs find where they have something in common with each other. Find the middle ground with everyone. This may be something from our past, something related to where we are now or maybe even somewhere we are planning on being in the future. Like in the video below, it is surprising where the middle ground is. We need to look beyond our initial judgements and approach people with an open mind.
What mindset do I need to build a deeper connection with a group?
· Vulnerability. This is outside of most people’s comfort zones, mainly because it appears weak. Showing vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s a strength. A superpower. When people are raw with us and share vulnerabilities what do we do? We lean in. We want to know more. They capture our attention. They are being human and that is what we connect with. That genuine humanness of people putting themselves out there. Have the courage to be vulnerable and set the tone for your team to do the same.
· Curiosity. Put the effort in to get to know others. Beyond all the work stuff, who are they? Listen to understand, not to reply. Be genuinely interested in other’s stories. Ask questions and provide your full attention. Stop checking your phone and being distracted by your own stuff. Be in the room and stay curious.
· Non judgemental. Park your biases at the door and as the old saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. This can be a challenge because we don’t always know what our biases are. And if you don’t know what your cognitive biases are, find out. Ask people for feedback and know when your own judgements and biases are taking over.
· Care. Have the desire to put others first and go out of your way to help. Be selfless. Understand others needs and look out for people. Show them that you care about them. Do something that makes their day. What better way is there to demonstrate to your fellow group members that you understand them. Let them know, “I see you”.
· Humility. Show modesty and avoid putting yourself on a pedestal. Nobody connects with a cocky show off. And admit when you make mistakes. As Aristotle eluded to, if you’re trying to be god like and above the group, you will not connect. Be the worst in the room at something and show regular humility. (even when you’re not the worst, play it down a bit).
· Tactile. Shake people’s hand with a smile and connect physically. And I’m going to throw it out there, hug people. Let them know that they are worthy of a hug and connecting with others. Even the small things make a difference. A hand on the shoulder. A palm to the centre of someone’s back. Don’t be offensive. If people don’t want to be tactile then be respectful of others’ boundaries. But do what you can to connect physically.
“We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” – Brené Brown