Early on in the pandemic, our organization identified "intentional connection" as a new norm, and this past week we hosted the first-ever "Connection Week" to put the spotlight on the value and importance of connection. As we are operating in more of a hybrid fashion, we hosted both in-person and virtual events that allowed associates to connect with each other from across the organization. As part of the week's activities, we held a session for our 200+ leaders on the role they play in fostering connection.
In preparing for this session, it got me thinking about the many facets of connection and what it means to the overall experience of our associates.
So the first facet that comes to mind around connection (and the most obvious) is relationship building--within and across teams.
As human beings, we are wired for this type of connection and it is linked to higher engagement, collaboration, productivity, and overall well-being. How have leaders intentionally created space for relationships? On my team, we have a few short virtual team "check-ins" each week that I started when we went virtual at the onset of the pandemic. On our Friday Check-In, the norm is we talk about weekend plans first and foremost. This agenda item is as important as any other and sometimes it takes up the whole 30 minutes! It's not that critical business items get missed; we always make room for those, but do we always make room for relationship building in our meetings?
What we have found at our organization is during the pandemic most departments prioritized connection and as a result in our most recent Associate Experience results, associates are feeling connected to their immediate teams. What our results also told us though is that associates are not feeling connected to associates outside their teams.
It got me thinking…in my role as an organizational development manager, I work on a lot of cross-functional teams with members spanning many different departments. Intentional connection was not something that was prioritized on those teams like it was within departments. Seldom did any of my cross-functional meetings have "Zoom happy hours" or team-building activities or "no agenda" time. Coincidently (or not) our experience results also found cross-functional collaboration as one of our lower scoring items.
Hmmm…could there be a connection here (wink wink)? I think so.
We recently started hosting virtual coffee hours with our Directors and VPs from across the organization once a month which is about 90 leaders. These meetings are optional, one hour long, and have no agenda. So far they have been a huge success.
We usually get about 30 leaders to participate and I'll admit the first few minutes are always a bit nerve-wracking as there is usually silence…until someone breaks down and brings up a topic. And then the flood gates open: the conversation is honest, free-flowing, fun, and vulnerable. I believe more collaboration happens in these coffee hours than in the many formal meetings these leaders have with pre-set agendas and scripted notes. It's open, honest, and real. This is intentional connection and we are not all in the same building to make it happen.
As leaders, how are we fostering connections for our team outside of our departments? How are we helping new hires with no history in the organization connect inside and outside the department? Connection to the team is vital, but so is connection across the enterprise that can lead to better collaboration and a deeper understanding of what others do. How are we fostering connection on our cross-functional teams?
I highly recommend the no-agenda, come-and-talk-about-anything meetings. You will be surprised at what could transpire.
Another facet of connection that is worthy to explore is connecting to the mission of the organization. Again, this could be an obvious one, but in this dispersed virtual world with a higher risk of silos and muted communication, connecting to the purpose and mission might get diluted. At a time when people are reevaluating their lives and searching for meaning in their work, how are we connecting their role to the organization's mission?
As a leader, this is personal work that demands connecting your associate's individual contribution to the betterment of the organization. Do they feel part of the organization's successes and struggles? If they don't feel that connection, the risk is apathy and disengagement. The short-term effect is you are most likely not getting that person's full potential. The longer-term effect could be turn-over.
And the final facet to connection I think worth mentioning is establishing personal connection to you as a leader. Whether you are leading a team of two or 200, each person on your team wants to feel connected to you. In the old days you might call this management by walking around. Doesn't work that way anymore…so how do you keep your teams connected to you? The virtual world actually lends many more possibilities in my opinion to connect to your teams.
Let me share a few ideas.
- Remember the coffee hours bit from before? A similar concept you can embrace for your teams: hold "virtual office hours" where associates can just drop into chat...nothing formal. They can ask you questions and you can ask them questions--about work or not about work--it's open. It's a chance for them to get to know you and for you to know them. They might start off slow but once word gets out that the intention really is just to connect, I bet it will catch on.
- Another idea to connect with your team is to start each week off with a short video--it can be a combination of items you want to reinforce from a work perspective (remember the mission stuff from before) and a personal perspective. Share what you did over the weekend, a funny story or even a mistake you made, and how you recovered. The important part is that these are unscripted and conversational. In these videos, you are not towing the corporate line, but connecting as a human being to your team. If you are vulnerable and authentic, I guarantee these are videos your team will watch regularly!
- Does your organization have a social media platform like Yammer or Slack? Be active on it! Post, like, contribute, recognize, and share photos. This not only allows associates on your team an opportunity to know you better but also associates from across the organization to know you better. By taking the time to engage with these connection tools it is signaling to associates that this is important and it matters…that connection matters.
Let's be honest, the role of a leader has always been hard, but it's even harder right now as the world changes and our traditional ways of working have faded away. We can't rely on what we always have to be effective. Leaders need to think differently about connection and prioritize it if we want an engaged, productive team. Authenticity and connection go hand-in-hand. We have to be real and truly want to connect; it can't be a "check-the box."
The best part about connection is really its simplicity--just be yourself and allow the time and space for it to happen. I think it will be the primary difference between organizational cultures that succeed or fail in this new world.