The importance of connection for your team’s engagement and performance

Jimmy Burroughes

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Do you remember when you were younger, and the feeling of nervous anxiety as you walked into a new school or club?

“Will they like me? What if I don’t fit in’?

Then that one kid smiled at you and took you under their wing. By the end of the day, things were looking a lot more positive.

This is the perfect example of the human need to connect. It’s an ancient and hardwired phenomenon that is a key element of positive mental health. Did you know that we are all just slightly evolved monkeys whose brains simply want and need to be connected to others? It’s a concept called Tribalism and is one of the areas we consistently identified during our research as a way to prevent burnout.

In pre-history, we relied on a connection with others for a sense of safety (watch out for the saber tooth tiger) but also for communication and stimulation (“There’s food over here or there are eligible partners in the next village”). Of course, there are fewer tigers in the modern world — but the principle still applies. Humans need to feel connected to a group of some form, and for most, that is your team at work.

A consulting project we have recently been undertaking with a large business has allowed us the opportunity to conduct over 35 interviews with new hires. The single biggest challenge most faced, and the one that led to most deciding whether they wanted to stay, was connection.

A consulting project we have recently been undertaking with a large business has allowed us the opportunity to conduct over 35 interviews with new hires. The single biggest challenge most faced, and the one that led to most deciding whether they wanted to stay with the business, was connection.

Whether it be meeting their team, their key stakeholders or working out where they fitted into the business if new employees struggled to make connections it led to a feeling of frustration, resentment and mental anguish. This was because they felt like no matter how hard they tried, they were struggling to be successful. All of these factors contributed to burnout and came down to lacking connection.

Not being clear on the job you do, who can help and where to get information is the business equivalent of being trapped in sensory deprivation. It sends us mad.

As a leader, aim to be that kid who smiles at the new person on their first day at school.

New employees need help to create networks and connect with the vision and purpose of the organization. They also need support to connect the dots about how the different parts of the business fit together and how they fit into the bigger picture. Leaders who help make these connections are perceived as much more effective by employees. Therefore it’s a win win!

You don’t need to do it alone though. From our research, we found that 47% of onboarding programs combine manager-led sessions with buddy connect programs to ensure there is always support in place and someone new employees can reach out to for support.

Equally, the connection doesn’t just apply to new starters. One of the biggest challenges created by COVID was the inability of employees to connect and have those informal conversations. Our work relies on getting people to connect and talk and so we’ve spent many hours perfecting facilitation techniques that enable this virtually. It’s not easy but it’s essential.

All of this effort with new starters, remote and hybrid teams, and workshops are more than just a fluffy well-being item on the agenda for leaders. There is a commercial imperative — bottom-line performance.
Sure, there is a focus on reducing burnout and improving commercial results but it’s more than that. Connection is about clarity, certainty, agility, and innovation. When we know what we are there to do, who works with us, and how to tap into information to help us solve, we can perform better. And this performance builds our mental resilience to burnout. So leaders, help your teams connect and promote connection across your team.

If you want some ideas, here are some suggestions that came up in recent workshops where we discussed connections for both new starters and established employees:

  • Have new starters meet 3–5 people every day during their first week as part of a scheduled program. Give them a list, with an org chart and help them see how the business fits together. Focus on the people they will work with during the initial stages of their role. Introduce new people over the first few months.
  • Dedicate the first 10 minutes of a meeting to checking in, asking everyone to share: How are you doing? What’s your workload like this week? How can we help? (remember, leaders, should go first!)
  • Create working sessions where people can hang out in an open zoom/teams meeting whilst they are working from home or elsewhere. It’s not obligatory to attend but it’s sometimes nice to have that background connection and be able to ask questions.
  • Create specific moments to connect with your team members one on one and discuss with them where they feel they need to boost their network or what they want to learn and help them connect with someone in your network who can enable that.
  • Don’t forget about the importance of connecting to others teams. Bring in external speakers and ask other leaders if you can have your team share what they are up to in their meetings so they can connect across and outside the organisation.

SIDENOTE — One of the things I am passionate about is staying connected with veterans and supporting them to transition to a new life after giving everything for their country. If you’d like to connect with other leaders like you and support some veterans, why not join our next Leadership Mastermind — focussed on Quiet Quitting taking place on 29 Nov at 1 pm Mountain Time?

We have a few spaces left and are selling tickets for donations to a veterans charity in light of Remembrance Day this November. I hope you can join us.

Speak soon,

Jimmy

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Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results. jimmyburroughes.com