Let’s start by connecting with the topic of belonging: Before reading on, I invite you to ponder the questions below. Really pause your mind and let these queries take you on a short journey:
- Do you feel that you belong? If you do, where do you belong?
- How do you know you belong?
- Why is belonging important to you?
What images come to mind? What places, people, situations? Take a deep breath, appreciate what surfaced, and now read on.
Belonging is a human need, as ancient as time – human nature drives us to become part of a tribe, part of something bigger than us as individuals. We have a primal instinct to want to belong. As a race, over time we have developed various ways to fulfill that need: Family, friendship, organizations, clubs and any other communities – big or small. Belonging is connected to our identity, we can better define who we are by the roles we play in other people’s lives, in our communities and at work.
According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, three main factors influence an organization’s ability to create a sense of belonging:
- An organizational culture where “workers should feel their perspectives are respected and valued; the culture should be one that encourages everyone to be authentic, share their diverse perspectives, and align to the team’s and organization’s purpose. And workers need clear mechanisms, such as incentives and peer/supervisor feedback, to show them how their work makes a difference in the pursuit of broader shared goals.”
- Leadership behaviors “that reinforce organizational values of fairness, respect, and psychological safety on teams and inspire workers to perform at their best.” The leaders that were able to build a stronger sense of contribution amongst their teams, united their teams “through common goals rather than by top-down rules, and team members had the autonomy to make decisions and provide input instead of following a command-and-control structure.”
- The quality of personal relationships within an organization is critical. “Teams where workers feel psychologically safe bringing their views to the table, and where their relationships with other team members are strong enough to allow them to do so in an assertive yet constructive way, will be well positioned to engage in productive friction — the ability to draw out conflict and learn from disagreements to generate new insights.” *
So what can organizations do to enhance these three factors in order to foster a stronger culture of belonging?
Spoiler alert! There is no quick fix or short answer to this big question. As with everything that is important and challenging in life, it takes time and courage. However, there are some high level guidelines we can share, based on our experience at GAIA Insights:
- Listen to people, even if it is uncomfortable – Establish regular space for open dialogue around different aspects of belonging. How do people perceive topics like fairness, equality, diversity and inclusion within the organization? How are people experiencing relationships within the organization, and do people feel connected to its mission? Pay close attention to the ones who are brave enough to speak their minds and share their discomfort, disagreement or challenging experiences.
- Develop your leaders: Hone their relationship building skills – Listening, empathy and non-violent communication are essential skills to create an environment of psychological safety that will, in turn, drive greater authenticity. This is about people feeling safe to be themselves around others, to speak their minds and not be judged, to make mistakes and not be punished. Creating such an environment is a key competency for leaders in today’s world, together with compassion and caring for people. The current pandemic we are in has helped raise awareness of the importance of these leadership traits.
- Help everyone see their contribution to the organization’s success – When people feel their efforts matter and they contribute positively, it strengthens their sense of belonging. Embed this topic into everyday dialogues, drive people’s attention to see how they are contributing to the purpose and success of the organization. Acknowledge everyone’s contributions – big or small – as a principle. Teach leaders to do that on a daily basis, not only with themselves but also with their teams and stakeholders. Everyone in an organization is important and deserves recognition. Role model that behavior and eventually it will become part of the culture.
Ultimately, fostering a culture of belonging not only fulfills a human need, but it is also good for business. Companies that are good at it can testify how it has made them more successful with their clients as well as more profitable.
* Source of quotes and survey results:
“Belonging, from comfort to connection to contribution” 2020. Deloitte
Authored by Valeria Torino, Program Mentor at GAIA Insights