Connection became a big thing when the pandemic hit. Only it didn’t really.
The chimes of ‘let’s stay connected as a team’ could be heard across the land. Then came the multiple channels of communication. Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, Slack to name but a few and that was on top of the additional emails and text messages we were already using.
This, my friend, is not connection.
What organisations did was focus on connectivity over human connection. Yes, it is important to have a sense of connectedness by aligning various tech and software apps. When you have efficient channels of communication it helps drive collaboration. You can have the best systems in the world but if you don’t have an emotional connection then you are on the slippery slope to a disengaged and de-motivated team – eventually.
Connection is a necessity not a fluffy optional
“But my team just wants to turn up and do their job!” I hear you say. “They are not interested in the fluffy emotional stuff or irrelevant chit-chat”.
That may be the case when everything in their world is going swimmingly. When their projects are on time, their confidence is in a great place and their home life is stable, things just seem to flow. You can all just crack on and get stuff done. But what happens when there is a wobble somewhere. What happens when they have a challenge or a problem? It could be professional, such as dealing with a difficult stakeholder or customer or it could be personal along the lines of a family crisis or a mental health blip. Have you invested in building strong connections with your teams so that they can openly share? When the s*&t hits the fan can you hold the space so they are seen, heard and know that what they are experiencing matters?
Did we ever do it well?
There is an abundance of excuses about connecting through a screen. I have heard most of them over the last 2 years. Difficulties with their manager (or leadership team) features in the top 3 issues that clients bring to a coaching session with me. So, to be honest I’m not sure it was happening that well before everyone pulled up their chairs at the kitchen table.
Whether it is via a screen or in person, fostering deep emotional connection with your team is essential if you want them to become agile, not fragile. And it doesn’t mean bearing your soul and getting all soppy. So, what exactly am I encouraging you to pay attention to?
· Vulnerability. It has taken its place at the leadership table following Brene Brown’s TED talk that went viral over a decade ago. Some got the memo. Some missed it in the noise of the much more seductive conversations that are focused on doing vs being. Vulnerability is at the heart of connection and if someone shows the courage to be vulnerable with you, meet them where they are at. Learn how to hold the space for them to be. Use empathy and compassion and do not respond with transactional, soulless responses.
· Presence. In my notes I wrote ‘look deep into the eyes of the other person and really see them’ but that just sounds weird. I am not suggesting you stare them out! When you are present, the other person feels seen and heard and what they are sharing matters. Don’t be glancing at your 10th Whatsapp message of the day while they are sharing the stress they are feeling about juggling home life with a massive project deadline. Neither should you be acting out some weird mirroring technique you learned on that communication course 10 years ago to show you are listening. That’s also weird. Learn how to ground yourself and be in the here and now – for them.
· Get comfortable with emotions. I have lost count of how many delegates have said to me “I am fine with emotions, just as long as they don’t cry”. What is it with this tear phobia? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy watching people cry when they are sharing frustration or a form of distress. However, it is just one expression of a myriad of emotions. Nancy Kline puts it brilliantly when she says “allow sufficient emotional release to restore thinking”. When we hold the space free from judgement for people to process, the results are rarely disappointing.
We need to bring more emotion into the workplace and I am a big advocate of helping leaders develop their emotional literacy. Until we develop this in ourselves, we will struggle to help develop it in our teams. Until we develop it in our teams, we will continue to complain about collaboration, customer service and employee engagement. Creating connection amongst your workforce is the bedrock of a high-performing team.
If you have created a connection culture in your team, I would love you to comment and share the practical ways you have achieved this to share with others.
Keep on connecting