Connection is perhaps the most crucial component in building a productive and efficient workplace. Why? Because connected teams drive collaboration, nurture healthy working relationships, and promote knowledge-sharing. The more connected we are as colleagues, the more efficient our workplace will be.
But you don’t have to look closely to see that there are other types of connection in the workplace. For instance, a team member might really connect with a particular concept or project, and take it upon themselves to go above and beyond. Another team member might emotionally connect with their organization’s values or purpose, and find another level of meaning in their role that previously didn’t exist for them. Connection might be as simple as strong workplace friendships between colleagues.
Sometimes these types of connection go unnoticed within organizations. We might recognize them as positive aspects, sure, but at first glance they seem unimportant in relation to the everyday work we do. They get lost in the shuffle and we rarely hear about them from leaders. It might seem strange or awkward to announce to your team that so-and-so felt connected to project X. But these types of connections are what bring teams closer together and make for a healthier company culture. In short, they matter more than we think.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this article’s all about connection in the workplace. We’ll look at what it is, what it isn’t, why it matters, and how you can help build a more connected workplace yourself.
What do you mean by workplace connection?
Connection and connectedness can mean a variety of things to different people. For some, a connected team means that all team members are on the same page technologically, each taking advantage of the latest collaboration software to get work done. For others, it means a team that has deep emotional connections with each other, and operates more “like a family”.
When I talk about workplace connection, I don’t mean a team that’s perfectly in sync at all times, laser-focused on the big picture goals, and also great pals. Teams like that may exist, but they’re exceedingly rare. If you’re on a team like this, I want to hear from you ASAP!
What I’m talking about is a bit more small scale. It’s less about developing close, familial connections and more about relating: to people, ideas, objectives, perspectives, backgrounds, and values. If you can get your people to relate to each other even a little bit better, you’re already on the way to creating a more connected workplace. As always, this is more complicated than it seems.
Here’s an example. Say your team is comprised of experts in specific fields whose projects rarely intersect with another. Each team member works independently on their projects and doesn’t really have a need or reason to work collaboratively. This is a team that might be extremely efficient and productive, but might also be atomized, disconnected, and lacking a sense of cohesion, of purpose.
There are many ways to approach this problem. Do you force people to collaborate on projects that might not really suit their expertise, solely to encourage connection? Probably not.
One approach I think works well is to encourage folks to gain understanding of each other in small ways. This could be informal chats or meetings between coworkers. Even encouraging people to ask each other what they’re working on is a huge step in the right direction. You could also try more formal shadowing sessions where coworkers get together to explain the specifics of their role or a project they’re working on, describe a problem they’ve encountered, and something they’re excited about.
What this example (hopefully) illustrates is the power of relating to someone else’s role and perspective. It doesn’t involve forcing team members to act a particular way, or fit a specific mold of connectedness. Rather, it’s about facilitating ways of building connections organically over time. It’s a learning experience because it involves finding out what projects, goals, or values connect with someone else. Needless to say, empathy plays a major role in making this happen.
But why does connection matter?
I know what you’re thinking: if the team is still efficiently producing good work, is there a problem if it’s disconnected in other ways? Do people need to be connected? As it turns out, connection matters a lot. People who feel connected to what they do for a living—who believe in and align themselves with their company’s values, mission, and purpose—and to those around them care about doing great work. They’re the type of employee who can quickly become a culture champion across your entire organization. But only if you’re aware of their connection with those values.
Similarly, a coworker’s excitement about an idea or upcoming project is contagious. If you can’t relate to an employee, you’ll never find out about what it is that excites them about their work, and what types of projects they’d be best suited for in the future. More importantly, you won’t be able to help them spread their excitement. Highlighting someone’s passion about their work is only possible if you’ve developed a connection to that work yourself, even if it’s just a surface level familiarity.
One thing to remember: not everyone needs or wants connection in the workplace. Or if they do, it’s to varying degrees. And that’s perfectly reasonable. Connection shouldn’t be forced upon anyone. But it can be encouraged through small acts of reaching out and by creating opportunities to learn about unique perspectives.
Here’s what you can do
What this’ll look like on your team will depend on a lot of factors. But here are a few takeaways if you’re trying to build a more connected workplace:
Engage your people without pretenses. Your people’s excitement about a particular project or attachment to your organization’s values might fluctuate week to week. So it’s important not to put them into a box. If they’ve expressed excitement or connection to a specific type of work, offer that work to them the next time it comes around, but don’t assume they’ll be always be willing.
Interact frequently, even if nothing comes out of it. It won’t be fruitful every time you reach out to your people or coworkers to try to relate to them. Not every 1:1 is going to be productive and informative. Nevertheless, continue to express an interest in what they’re working on and learn how you can help support them.
If no one’s connecting to your values, it’s time for them to change. Corporate values are often mocked as cynical and self-serving buzzwords. If your people aren’t connecting with your organizational values (and bringing them to life each day at work), it’s time to consider finding out why that is. Hint: you can’t force people to connect emotionally to buzzwords. Find out what people care about at your company, what they value, and put together a list that reflects that.
Connecting with team members, especially across departmental lines, is important to the success of any business. Creating connection where there is none, as most of these things go, is going to be a long process. It’s also going to be a group effort. Keep that in mind as you encourage your team to interact with and relate to each other and together you’ll build a more connected workplace.