Creating a culture where team connectivity flourishes isn't just about the nuts and bolts of workflows and project management tools—it's fundamentally a human endeavor. It's about nurturing a space where human interaction is valued and encouraged, allowing team members to feel included and psychologically safe. This inclusive atmosphere not only makes room for everyone to contribute but also empowers individuals to bring their full selves to work. There, in the richness of authentic connections and shared experiences, teams don't just function—they thrive.
One thing that won’t be lost on any leader is that high-performing teams are built on the relationships within them. That includes the relationships between colleagues and those between the team members and their leader. Without a connection, there’s no trust, and without trust, you don’t have an effective team.
Whether it’s face-to-face or virtually, open and honest communication is the foundation of good team relationships. To get the basics right, managers must outline responsibilities clearly, discuss problems and challenges, recognize successes, and provide honest and regular feedback. But that’s not all. If you, as a team leader, want to nurture healthy team connectivity and performance, there’s a lot more to think about.
Fostering team connection for enhanced workplace synergy
What exactly is team connectivity? Is it all about going out to lunch together and having team meetings? Well, it could be, but it’s also being in sync, having the appropriate communication channels and knowledge bases, being open to feedback and constructive criticism, and having the freedom to communicate openly. And as the team manager, it’s your job to put that framework in place.
The benefits of well-connected teams are numerous. Human connection is one of the most effective and undervalued retention strategies you have. Recent studies confirm the positive and negative impacts of team connections, or lack thereof:
- 46% of workers who did not work with people they care for or trust reported it as a reason to quit.
- Low team engagement levels result in a 25% higher rate of absenteeism and 62% more accidents
- More connected teams are 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees and 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers.
In connected teams, the communication is more streamlined, there’s faster and more creative problem solving, less wasted time, and a general sense of overall job satisfaction. Those benefits are certainly compelling, but unfortunately for team leaders, there’s no bulletproof strategy to help you get there.
Building connections: Establishing the foundations for strong team cohesion
Building connections is an ongoing and never-ending process that you must personalize to meet the specific requirements of your workplace and team. That said, there are plenty of basics that you need to get right:
- Encourage informal meetings
- Check-in with employees regularly
- Respond to employee feedback
- Get to know employees on a personal level
- Actively listen to what employees are telling you
- Openly communicate about mistakes and shortcomings, results, and learning points
- Share team management plans
With the rise of remote and hybrid teams, some leaders assume that choosing the right communication tool and letting employees naturally seek each other out will be enough. Putting the right communication channels in place for distributed teams is essential, but as the team leader, you must take a more active role in helping to build and maintain that connection.
The critical role of psychological safety at work
For employees to perform effectively, a priority for leaders is to create psychological safety within their teams. Psychological safety is the belief that, as a team member, you have the freedom to speak your mind, take risks, be creative, and make mistakes without the fear of judgment or recrimination.
The importance of psychological safety in high-performing teams was demonstrated in a study by Google. It spent two years studying 180 members of its teams to learn what made them successful. It found, perhaps surprisingly, that the team members themselves and the skills they had were not the primary determinants of success. Instead, the interpersonal dynamics within the teams were the biggest factor in their success.
The researchers identified key dynamics that were at play in the most effective teams, including dependability, structure and clarity, and the meaning and impact of the work. However, psychological safety - whether team members could share their opinions and take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed - was at the top of the list.
Nearly, 70% of employees feel that their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor, putting their influence on par with that of their life partner. And 60% of employees worldwide say their job is the biggest factor influencing their mental health. - Supportive Leadership for a Healthy Workplace.
How to build connection through human interaction
Building connections is about finding commonality and having a shared outlook. While your messaging and communication platforms enable your teams to collaborate, they cannot help you build the real human connection and psychological safety your teams need to thrive. Here are some tips to help you get there.
Make it personal
It’s important that team members feel safe in their professional interactions, but you should also take the time to get to know them personally. Finding out what makes them tick and the challenges they may be facing in their personal lives can uncover commonalities, reveal new strengths and weaknesses, and help them feel more connected.
It’s important to be intentional about building personal connections. In-person socials are one way to do it, but small touches such as hosting regular informal catch-ups and acknowledging personal milestones and achievements will help you build a safe, trusting, and more connected culture over time.
Start as you mean to go on
It’s never too early to start nurturing that connection. We all know that a proper onboarding process is essential to make new employees feel at home, with one study finding that 43% of new hires leave within the first 90 days.
To buck that trend, start communicating with new hires even before their first day. Gestures such as sending them a preboarding questionnaire can help you find out a little more about them and show them that you care. As well as building your connection, it can also help to reduce your staff turnover and have significant benefits for your bottom line.
There’s a wealth of evidence to show that diverse and inclusive organizations make better decisions, and the same can be said for your teams. A report has found that organizations with a higher representation of black, indigenous, and employees of color in management have higher cash flow, net profit, and three- and five-year revenue. It also found that positive financial performance is associated with smaller gaps in overall diversity and the diversity of the management team.
To build a better connection, you must find ways to communicate effectively with the diverse people you have in your teams. It can be easy to dismiss or not properly listen to ideas that aren’t in tune with your own, but it’s that divergence of ideas and opinions that makes diverse teams successful. You must ensure everyone has the confidence to speak up and that all opinions are valued equally.
“Inclusion is about belonging to a group. First of all, even if you have diversity, it doesn't mean that it translates into inclusion. If you focus on diversity only, that's not enough, because an employee or a person's sense of belonging (inclusion) is also tied to his or her experience of fairness (equity), which is equally important.”
Good communication takes time, which is something teams often lack. That’s why making time should become a priority for team managers. Setting time aside for quick meetings and project updates can build trust and allow you to provide the support they need.
Not every 1:1 has to be hugely productive or informative, but even if nothing comes of it, showing an interest in what your team members are working on and being there to resolve any issues can help you build the connections that enable your team to thrive.
Team connectivity helps everybody shine
These are just some of the ways that you can use human connections to make your teams a competitive advantage for your organization. There’s plenty you can’t control, but you can choose to create an inclusive, psychologically safe culture where your teams feel connected intellectually and emotionally, to thrive and create together.