How to Create a Workplace of Belonging
Imagine if at your workplace everyone came in each day with a gleam in their eye and a purpose in their step. Then, as they set to work, they completed tasks with an eagerness to do well, not just for themselves but also for their team and for their company. Further, imagine each person felt important and valued and, as such, created work on par with that. Can you envisage a workplace like that?
How can you create a culture whereby everyone in the workplace thrives?
The people in your workplace are intricately woven from skills, ideas, motivation, creativity and grunt. The environment, culture and ability to connect in your organisation will affect how well your team succeeds and in turn how well your business prospers. A key ingredient to thriving is a sense of belonging.
The concept of “belonging” fascinates me. I wonder if one of the big questions of our time is – How do we cultivate and nurture belonging? How do we feel that we are part of something and that we are accepted for who we are? How do we feel included and considered? How do we support all our team to feel that way too?
Belonging vs Fitting In
The first big place that belonging falls down is when we are harshly judged and excluded. Can you think of a time with this has happened to you? I can.
“You can’t play with us today.” one girl said to me over a game of hopscotch. “We aren’t playing with carrot tops today.”
I remember my heart sank. I wanted so much to belong and be included. All I wanted to do at that moment was to dye my hair so I could fit in. Don’t get me wrong, I love my red locks but this is what happens. We want to protect ourselves and we will change who we are, or hideaway, putting up a fight or disengaging, to do it. And not just in the schoolyard. This continues on into our lives and into our workplaces. The costs of your team not speaking their truth, hiding away, putting up a fight or disengaging are seen in the loss of productivity and innovation, as well as in the increase in workplace disharmony, presenteeism, employee stress and burnout.
How do we foster a culture of belonging in the workplace?
There are three key ways to build belonging into your organisation’s culture: support authenticity, create open channels of communication, and use empathy.
Supporting your team to be authentic is a delicate dance. You want your team to feel confident about bringing their ideas to the table. To do this, trust and rapport must be present. If your team fears that speaking up will put them in the dog box, they are less likely to contribute ideas.
There are three enemies to authenticity.
The first is harsh criticism. Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t provide feedback on ideas. What I am saying is to be sure you give feedback on the idea, not the person. Highlight both the merits and limitations of the idea and give space for the idea or issues to be further explored.
The second is the shutdown. This is where team members are shut down by managers or other team members before they can express what they want to say. Have an eye out for where these shutdowns are taking place and open the floor up again for them to be aired.
The third is lip service. This is where a team member manages to express what they wanted to say, only to receive some placatory comment and then be quickly dismissed. Letting team members know that you have heard them and that you value their input is one way to support authentic expression.
Do you know that feeling in the air where there is some unsaid word between you and your partner or another significant person in your life? The air feels heavy. The niggling sets in and so do the piranhas of connection. And this is created with just two people.
The feeling in a workplace of not being about to communicate things that are important not only leaves the air heavy but those unsaid words for management also turn into complaining among staff. It sucks the goodwill and motivation out of the building.
Building up two key communication skills, engaged listening and curious questioning, and using them with your team can open up the pathways of communication. Listening and questioning are things that we all do every day. By adding the quality of engaged listening, we change the quality of the act. If you are wholly engaged in the act of listening, this will have very different results; just as a curious question will change the conversation into an investigation rather than an interrogation.
A good dollop of empathy
If you want to build trust and rapport, displaying, modelling and really sinking into empathy is a game changer. Feeling understood and not judged really allows a person to feel like they belong. This doesn’t have to be a constant state; just a touch point. A moment in each interaction where you ask yourself, what does this feel like to them? What would it be like to be standing in their shoes?
It starts with one thing
If you feel your organisation could foster some more belonging, it all starts with one thing: making a real and true choice to commit to that. Yes, commit to it because you want to get more out of your team, sure. But also commit to it because you want the best for each and every member of your team. Start with that one step and you will start to see all the ways that you can make your workplace into a place where eyes gleam and steps have purpose.
Photo Credit to dotism
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