4 Tips for Building Connection on Your Team
As hybrid and remote work have become normalized, it has placed a spotlight on the importance of feeling connected at work. Organizations are rightly concerned that employees might be feeling lonely or disconnected.
But, this isn’t a new issue.
For decades, Gallup has been reminding us of the importance of having a best friend at work, And, frankly, we have all felt the impact of connection (or lack of it) personally. We know it’s better when you work with people who you like and trust.
Recent Enboarder research even found that 94% of the 1,000 employees surveyed report that they are more productive when they feel connected to those they work with. Those who feel actively connected are significantly more likely to report their workplace is collaborative, motivating, and innovative.
Ensuring that your employees feel connected is vital to engagement, retention, performance, and more. And there are some simple steps you can take to foster greater connection starting immediately.
4 tips to build connection
As a manager or HR leader, if you want to foster more connection at and through work, the key ingredients are time and overlap.
Overlap, simply put, is the mutual familiarity between people that leads to a feeling of closeness and connection. To form overlap requires that we know stuff about each other and that we do things together.
To create this overlap in relationships requires time. And, in our time starved day-to-day schedules, that might feel impossible. There is no shortcut.
Time is the currency of relationships. 🕰️ If we want to foster greater connection at work, we have to be more intentional and thoughtful about how we use time.
Below are some tips to get you started.
1. Make meetings more personal. 💜
Meetings can feel like a necessary evil at work. But, they can be an incredible opportunity to build overlap when approached with that intention. The key is to invite people to share more about themselves in the meeting.
One effective way teams do this is by adding a “question of the day” to the agenda. The question might be something as simple as “where did you grow up?” to something more fun like “what’s your favorite movie of all time?”
The goal is simply to invite people to share more about themselves in a safe, nonthreatening way. The magic of doing this is in the potential for a spark of connection.
When two people realize that they grew up in the same place or share a common interest, they take a step or two away from just being co-workers in the direction of becoming friends.
2. Make appreciation a part of work. 🙏
During the pandemic, when teams were forced into remote working, I did some research with a colleague to explore what was helping people feel connected.
One of the key findings was that receiving an act of appreciation or recognition was a key factor in feeling connected. When someone takes the time to acknowledge or appreciate your efforts, it has a powerful effect. It says “I see you.”
To reap the benefit of appreciation to drive connection, you need to make it central to how you do work. One simple way is to add “shout outs” to your regular team meetings or huddles. When doing research for my book, “Unlocking High Performance,” this was the most common practice I found in highly engaged teams.
Add an agenda item to your meeting to go around the group and let people “shout out” appreciation to anyone who’s helped them or done something noteworthy since the last meeting. It’s simple but profoundly powerful.
Shout outs help model what appreciation looks like. It primes your team to think about and look for people to appreciate. And, it creates a flywheel of appreciation and gratitude within your team.
Many organizations are also using technology tools to make it easy for employees to recognize, thank, and appreciate one another. These tools are particularly powerful for distributed teams where moments of “I see you” need to be created with more intention.
3. Bring people together. 🖇️
When I first joined a corporate HR team twenty years ago, I will admit to rolling my eyes every time an announcement came out that a gathering was planned to celebrate a birthday, holiday, or baby shower at work.
In my mind, these events were counterproductive to getting work done. I was blind to the value of these gatherings. These small investments of “not-working” time with co-workers are fertile soil for connection to take root.
These celebrations are rich in the two ingredients we need: time and overlap. When people have to step away from their work for a little bit, it allows for them to learn about one another.
In-person gatherings have a host of advantages, but even virtual gatherings can have real impact if you plan them with intention. Try to make them memorable, interactive, and inclusive of everyone involved.
4. Check in with people regularly. ☑️
One of the most powerful and simple steps a manager can take to help an employee feel more connected and productive is to check in with the employee regularly.
Learning how to check-in effectively means inviting the conversations that really matter with the employee to provide the support and encouragement they need. It is a game changer for managers.
The first, and perhaps most important, step of an effective check-in is asking a great question. The goal of any check-in is to start a conversation that matters, so you need to lead with a question that invites that to happen.
A great check-in question is one that invites a response that requires a follow-up.
As an example, a not-great but common check-in question is “How are you?” While the intention of this question might be good, it often invites a one word response like “fine” or “busy” that tells you very little.
On the other hand, examples of a great question are “What is the most important thing we need to talk about today?” and “What are you most frustrated with at work right now?” Regardless of the answer, you are going to want to ask at least one follow up question. And the conversation begins.
Use the recipe for connection. 🪴
These are but a few tips for how to foster greater connection at work. There are countless other ways to do it. The key is to understand the two necessary ingredients we discussed earlier: overlap and time.
Connection builds when people have shared experiences and a mutual familiarity with one another. Anytime you create time and space for that to happen, you are creating the conditions for connection to form.
Put people together to share an experience, create the opportunity for them to learn more about one another, and then step back and let the connection grow.