Memories of great teams and great teammates.

Looking back at some of the best teams I’ve worked with, I’ve thought about what made those teams so great. Was it the work? Yes, we did great work. But what really made the team great was the people.

I was stepping into a great team of experts, I was new to the field as well as new to the team, and I was nervous. This team instantly took me under their wing, and made me feel at home. At our first team meeting they talked about how they were going to get me across all that I needed to know. They openly talked about the best meetings for me to start attending to get me up to speed and who I would buddy with on each topic. On that first day, I felt looked after and befriended. There were no egos, and no jostling for power, just a focus on getting the job done, and helping me to fit into the team as soon as possible. They were able to create a sense of Belonging from that very first day.

One memory, which still makes me smile, was starting our Monday morning meetings by sharing something interesting that happened on the weekend. It sounds a bit contrived, but it became my favourite part of our Monday morning meetings. For a short time, there was no other agenda but getting to know each other. We shared stories of each other’s families in all their different shapes and forms, many moments of humour, and we all started off our Monday with a warm feeling.

I learned so much about each person by what they chose to share. Who were the important people in their lives? What were the things that brought them joy? How did they spend their time when they weren’t here?

And this group of people became my friends as well as my work colleagues. I looked forward to coming to work just to hang out with them. This was one of the best times in my career, and also a time when I did some of my best work.

Finding connection matters to business outcomes

Why do these things matter? Because we all like to feel connected to others. By reminding each other that we are human, we find more things in common with each other, and find connection.

This connection is foundational to developing trusting relationships. It’s essential for us to be able to disagree constructively. In business we need robust discussions to arrive at the best outcomes. If everyone politely agrees (even when they have doubts and concerns), we don’t get to the heart of issues, and don’t get to the best outcomes. Innovation requires insight and this often comes from rejecting the status quo.

It’s the simplest thing, and we sometimes forget, to have a good robust disagreement, we have to trust we’re coming out the other side intact, and so are our relationships. That we’ll live to fight another day. When we respect each other’s opinions, the discomfort of disagreement is worth it, because we know that our shared views actually lead to better outcomes.

Your role as a leader

All of this is based on feeling a part of a team, based on connected relationships, and a sense that we belong. Everyone in the team has an important role to play in creating a great culture, and being inclusive, but your actions as a leader will always cast the longest shadow.

Creating that space for people to be themselves, and to be accepted and valued for who they are, is not only the most powerful thing you can do for your team as a leader, it’s also the most fun – it’s the reason you lead. The role you play in helping people to know each other, build rapport, and ultimately trust in each other is visible to everyone and sets the tone for “how we treat each other”.

Some of my favourite leaders, really took the time to know every person in the team and valued their unique skills. Team members knew they were trusted to do their part, and more than that, they were needed for the whole team to work. In this environment where people depend on each other, there is a real sense of Belonging.

I once had to walk into a room of senior leaders to give a presentation. The CEO had invited me, and knew I would be nervous, it was a daunting room! As I appeared at the doorway, the CEO called me by name, smiled, and said Welcome, come and sit over here. Such a simple gesture, but it made me feel like I Belonged in the room and gave me the confidence boost I needed.

Why is Belonging so important?

Belonging is much more than merely fitting in. It’s also about knowing that people you care about are depending on you to do your bit, and that you are accountable to the group for what you deliver. It provides you with meaning outside yourself.

The easiest way to remember why Belonging is so important is to remember a time when you felt you didn’t Belong. What did it feel like? People won’t be focussed on doing their best work when they are feeling left out, alone or sidelined.

Building Belonging

So how do you go about building this kind of team? As a leader, you need to know your people, know their talents, and give people space to use their particular talents together to create magic. Think of it like building a great orchestra. The symphony will only sound great when all of the instruments complement each other.

As a team member, your contribution to building belonging is just as important. Understanding how your own contribution fits into the whole, and how everyone else’s does too is foundational. Relaxing into the absolute interdependency, so you can be generous in your praise, and openly talk about how others contribute to the work of the team is everybody’s role.

Take advantage of opportunities for individuals to know each other. Who are their significant others? What’s their background? What’s important to them? Talents are not only about a person’s specific work skills. Knowing about people’s lives outside of work provides an insight into a range of otherwise invisible talents. Things like creativity, empathy, resourcefulness, humour and a sense of fun. These are all talents that will be invaluable to the team, and what they/we achieve together even though I’ve never seen them specifically written into a job description.

Take the opportunity to work closely together, and support each other on challenging tasks. We always say, it’s difficult not to like someone once you know their story. So, make it your business to know your teammates’ stories.

Connecting remotely

What about in these times of remote working? How do you facilitate team get togethers where people have the opportunity to spend time with each other and feel connected?

We’ve started a regular remote catch up over lunch that has no other agenda. It’s a time to chat, hear about each other’s week, have a few laughs, and just enjoy each other’s company.

Technology solutions like SLACK help people to stay connected with general chit chat (and banter) both about work, and about what’s going on in their day.

Connecting remotely takes extra effort, but it’s important to prioritise this so that people working remotely don’t feel isolated.

Where people have recently joined organisations that aren’t working in the office, they talk about how hard it’s been to get to know their team. Rather than leaving this to chance, you may need some specific interventions to build connections.

One on one’s to get to know team members, as well as some group get togethers where people can see the team dynamic in action will help. You can accelerate people getting to know each other by taking the time to do an icebreaker activity at the beginning of group meetings. Don’t overthink it, or make it too contrived – humans are tribal, and we never need much more than feeling welcome and comfortable to be happy to connect.

If people are working from home and are alone, encourage them to stay in touch with their emotions, and reach out when they need some company. It’s important to make people feel like they can get in touch without a specific work reason.

If you have team members who give you a call just to have a chat, and who are active on your slack channels, and are also delivering in terms of their work, this is a great start.

When you are part of a team where people genuinely know, like and respect each other, and you are all committed to the work through a shared purpose, then you’ll feel the difference this makes to wanting to turn up to work each day – virtually or in person – and you’ll know that you and they all feel a sense of belonging.

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