To Connect or Not to Connect?
There is no question. People in organizations need to connect.
They need to connect on a human level for meaningful communication and collaboration to take place.
In analogy, think of the difference in communication between stand-alone computers and networked computers. Stand-alone computers don't communicate, and we do not expect them to either.
We, humans, are supercomputers of sorts. In organizations, someone has to be in charge of connecting us to others and maintaining our connections. That is why we need some hierarchy.
As leaders, we need to go back to our drawing boards and see if we are connecting our people sufficiently. Even with faulty connections as the sad given norm, people in organizations still find creative ways to get stuff done, an admirable trait that implies high frustration thresholds and astonishing levels of implementation genius.
Imagine how much more would get done, fixed, and created if we would consciously connect our people.
To be clear, I am not talking about "connecting" as in "networking," i.e., going to events and approaching people we don't know to chat superficially, try to influence, and maybe exchange business cards. I am talking about connecting to communicate and collaborate. I am talking about real connections.
So, what does "to connect" mean?
When we connect, we feel the other person gets us. We sense a "yes" resonating about what we just said. The other person leans in to hear every single word we say. We click. If we sense a "no," we lean in to listen to their perspective. We learn.
If our thoughts and words are appreciated enough to be built on by the other, the intellectual connection strengthens. Intellectually connecting implies respect, which leads to good listening and can be sufficient for problem identification, analysis, or resolution. Yes, it is better than not connecting at all, but it is only the first step.
However, if we also genuinely like and appreciate the other, we connect even more. We relax and allow ourselves to become more playful. As a consequence, we produce better ideas, shortcuts, and breakthroughs. We are less stressed. Work becomes play. Even if we are required to be our straight, professional selves in our organizations, we do not shed our human needs at the door every morning when we walk in. We are programmed to connect, not only intellectually but also on a human level. Every person who truly enjoys his or her work will have sufficient connections on a human level.
Connecting people is the only other leverage we need in our businesses, assuming that organizational structure and processes are already encouraging and directing workflow nicely.
First, we connect our computers, unite our people, and do everything we can to maintain connections.
We do often implement strategies to connect people indirectly. Open workspaces are one of the ways we try to do so. I am not sure if this is working well enough.
In my opinion, we need to directly and explicitly connect our people around meaningful work-related goals. It is the only type of connection we need to encourage and facilitate well. All else is nice to have.
With genuinely connected people, where and how work happens is irrelevant. Staff outings and family events can help if we want to do more, but not critical. Connected people often find unorchestrated ways to communicate and collaborate because they want to; it is fun, feels good, and gets stuff done — satisfaction in a nutshell.
Connecting people as a leadership task may seem sentimental, but it is not. It is directly business-related. If people do not connect sufficiently and sensibly inside the organization, complications will arise elsewhere. Customers and other external parties to a business are the first to sense when connection levels are not up to par. You get my point.
So, how do you best connect for communication and collaboration? Here is a checklist:
1) The leader takes on connecting people as a top priority.
2) The leader is well-connected with peers and higher-ups as well.
3) Each established group becomes a team with clear goals, values, and behavior rules. The team has no more than 6-8 members max.
4) The leader appreciates each team member for talents, current levels of experience, and know-how. Each member is on a curated self-development journey with regular touchpoints with the leader.
5) The leader recognizes regular meetings as the best place to implement connections between team members because that is where communication and collaboration happens or should happen.
6) The leader carefully prepares the meeting—each person who is attending too.
7) The leader is the facilitator, the host, and the conductor of the orchestra of thoughts and ideas. The leader also directs team members safely through inevitable team storms and rocky emotional weather. The leader never loses sight of the Why, What, and What for during meetings. The leader nurtures genuine connections.
Note: Always appoint a substitute facilitator for meetings if the leader cannot be present. Imagine an orchestra without a conductor.
8) A short, written report bears evidence of the meeting, its decisions, and results and holds all team members accountable in the future.
9) The quality of the session is measured each time, discussed, and noted.
10) Each collaborative session brings the team closer to their goals.
In a nutshell, establishing and maintaining genuine connections between people focused on business goals is a critical part of leadership work and requires some effort initially. Once installed, however, it makes leadership work from then on a breeze.
Image: Taylor Vick on Unsplash