Why is creating a culture of connection such an important priority for leaders?
It’s well established that workplace culture can make a significant impact on an organization's ability to succeed and achieve its objectives. But many leaders move beyond just focusing on workplace culture to create a community-oriented environment that inspires greater investment among employees
The idea behind building community in a business setting is to create an environment where all internal stakeholders can work together effectively and feel secure in their individual roles. And we know that organizations that successfully foster community among employees often experience higher rates of trust, respect, empathy, and psychological safety.
Beyond that, there are many organizational benefits to creating a culture of connection, including:
Improved collaboration: When employees feel like they're part of a workplace community, they may trust one another more. This increased level of trust can lead employees to feel more willing to collaborate, take other perspectives into account and share their own viewpoints openly, which can significantly improve their ability to work interpersonally
More effective communication: This type of workplace environment can often lead employees to communicate more efficiently. Improved communication may result in various other benefits, such as clearer expectations, fewer discrepancies and higher rates of productivity overall.
Increased productivity: Being part of a community can help employees better understand how their individual contributions fit into larger organizational goals. From here, they may feel a greater sense of accountability toward these goals and produce an increased quantity of high-quality work.
Professional satisfaction: With all of the above—improved support, more opportunities for growth, greater personal investment, optimized collaboration, better communication and higher rates of productivity
So I think it’s fair to say that as a leader cultivating strong connections both on an individual and organizational level should be one of your most important priorities.
Doesn’t this “culture of connection” happen organically in most organizations? Why is this the responsibility of a corporate or team leader?
Connection and collaboration typically don’t happen organically in most organizations. It’s incumbent on leaders to set the tone and model prosocial behavior so it flows through the organization and becomes not only the norm but the expectation.
An interesting study published in the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago reveals that the top reasons for collaboration failure include silos (67%), no collaborative vision from leaders (32%), and senior managers not wanting to give up control (32%).
Today’s workplace has become more collaborative than ever, with functional and divisional boundaries blurred beyond recognition, yet 2 of 5 employees worldwide say people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.
This is a problem since most of a organization's competitive value is created and delivered at organizational “seams.” This is where functions come together to form capabilities (think marketing, consumer analytics, and R&D, together developing an innovation capability). That requires leaders of those functions to collaborate across the silos to deliver that value.
What is the evidence for the power of connection and collaboration - is there any research to back this theory?
Research shows that organizations that cultivate a culture of connection are more efficient and productive. This is because they encourage and support social coordination and cooperation – in other words, they are more collaborative.
For example, a series of Stanford studies from a few years ago found that even the mere perception of working collaboratively on a task can supercharge our performance.
In those studies research participants who were told they were virtually collaborating with others were significantly more motivated to take on and stick to highly difficult (even insoluble) tasks than those working solo:
Persisted longer on a challenging task (48% study 1, and 64% study 2)
Expressed greater interest in and enjoyment of the task
Found it easier/less tiring (required less self-regulatory effort) to persist on the task
Became more engrossed in and performed better on the task
Experienced higher levels of satisfaction (intrinsic motivation) and enjoyment in working on the task
A similar finding emerged from a recent study of 1,100 companies by the Institute for Corporate Productivity and Babson College – this study found that companies promoting connection and collaborative work environments were five times as likely to be high performing.
What are some barriers to creating connection and collaboration in an organization?
There certainly are roadblocks especially in a post-pandemic world where many if not most employees are spending more time out of the office, and a significant number have become full-time remote. This makes it more difficult for social interactions and time spent collaborating with co-workers.
Additionally, according to Gallup, employee satisfaction and engagement are at their lowest levels since they started measuring these statistics over 15 years ago (~20% last two years year after many years at ~27%).
Another wrinkle is that as a culture we're experiencing increased polarization and distrust. For example, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2022 & 2023:
70% of people would not help someone who had differing views from themselves
80% would not want to live in the same neighborhood or work in the same company as people with differing views
And to compound matters, many millennials and Gen Z are questioning the intrinsic merit and fulfilling aspects of work and career.
So what should leaders do? What specific steps can they take to cultivate a culture of connection and collaboration?
At an Individual Leader Level
whether you’re a C-level, a department head, or a project team lead, can cultivate and encourage a culture of connection and collaboration in the following ways:
Take initiative/be courageous - don’t wait for others to come up to you and start talking…in most cases they’re probably waiting for you to talk to them first and may be too nervous to initiate a conversation
Show sincere interest and be inquisitive by asking who, what, when and how questions
Practice active listening – be present, make eye contact, listen to understand rather than to respond
At an Organizational Level
Create Support networks: Employees who feel that they're part of a community might care more about each other's well-being and success.
Provide Opportunities for growth: Community-oriented workplaces often provide employees with various opportunities for professional or personal growth customized for their particular needs.
Make a Personal investment: Building community in the workplace often entails involving employees in decision-making processes rather than using top-down procedures. Taking part in these processes can help employees invest more in an organization's success and feel a sense of responsibility in overcoming any challenges to progress that may arise.