Do Your People Truly Feel Like They Belong?

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During a recent leadership workshop I facilitated for a client, I noticed the lack of interaction between participants as they entered the room. The employees represented midlevel managers and supervisors from different departments across the company. Before the session, I learned from the client that engagement and productivity were low in the company. I was there to help these leaders understand how to improve their leadership effectiveness to gain higher levels of commitment from their workgroups and teams.

I shared a story from when I was a U.S. Army company commander about communicating the purpose of our mission and how each soldier played a part in the success of our unit. As I engaged the participants, I quickly learned that there was a lack of belongingness. The leaders in the room did not feel a connection to the organization and did not understand how their work fit into the purpose and mission of the company. I quickly realized that if the company’s midlevel leadership did not feel connected, then it was logical to assume their other employees didn’t either.

I’ve found that when employees feel like they belong in an organization, they are more cohesive and committed to each other and the company; they have a culture of cohesiveness and commitment.

Humans have a need — not just a want — to belong.

Our brains are like radar, always asking the question, “Do I belong?” and looking for signs from their leaders that they do. If the answer to the question comes back as a no or maybe, employees do not feel connected.

Throughout my time leading, developing, coaching and helping leaders become more effective, I have found these practices can help leaders build cultures of cohesion and commitment where employees and direct reports feel they belong. Try practicing these three strategies:

1. Bond the team by communicating value and purpose.

Inspiration is the emotional rocket fuel for great team performance. When you assign tasks to your employees, inspire them by connecting what they are doing to the purpose and mission of the organization. Communicate that what they are doing matters to other members of the team as well. It creates a shared purpose and adds value to the organization. Establishing an emotional bond between the members of your team and the organization will let them know they belong and can help pull them together to be more cohesive and committed.

2. Be emotionally responsive.

Cohesion is an emotional undercurrent. It’s the bond of inspirational and relational factors that cause a group, team and organization to want to commit to and work with each other. To maintain the cohesive glue when times are stressful, be sure to monitor the emotional state of your employees by being emotionally responsive. Check in with them, and ask how they are doing in an authentic way. Being present and engaged emotionally with your people lets them know they belong and that you are dependable as a leader. Emotions can be awkward and uncomfortable to deal with but are the key to cohesion, commitment and higher levels of performance.

3. Be self-aware.

Emotion drives behavior in groups, teams and organizations. Leaders design and create space for employees to thrive and perform well. That starts with you, the leader, being aware of your emotional state and taking proper steps to regulate to set a positive example. As a leader, the emotional behaviors you model send a clear answer to employees who are wondering, “Do I belong?” You want the answer to be yes. Your employee experience is determined by the dynamic, the level of cohesion in the workplace. This depends on the quality of interactions and relationships between members, which, in turn, influences the work climate and the quality and level of results your company will achieve.

Creating a culture of cohesion and commitment is challenging. It requires leaders to let their direct reports and employees know their actions are aligned with the company mission and purpose and that they belong by being emotionally responsive, engaged and available daily. But from my experience and perspective, it is worth the effort because the benefits are a more positive, collaborative and productive workforce.

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