Creating a Culture of Connection: Strategies for Team Success
As your organization grows, it naturally becomes more challenging to get to know everyone on a personal level. When I first joined KiteTech, it was a relatively small team. Over the past decade, our company has grown considerably. I will never forget how surprised I was the first time I witnessed two members of the team (both of whom had been with the company for several months) introduce themselves to each other at a company gathering. This was the first time I remember feeling like a “big” company which got me interested in exploring ways we could preserve the feeling of closeness in a “small” company.
If you are leading the team, it is crucial to proactively seek ways to connect with your team members. Establishing robust and consistent connections can lead to happier, more committed employees, a more reliable customer experience, and ultimately, improved team performance.
What does it mean to “connect”?
When I refer to “connecting” with your team, think of it as a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum is forming deep friendships with everyone at your organization. You don’t need to go this far. On the other end, connecting could be as simple as sending an instant message or giving a quick phone call every once in a while, to say “Hi, how are you?”. It’s not much, but in my opinion, this is better than doing nothing at all.
Over time, these interactions, however big or small, progress you towards the high end of the spectrum. This may include inviting someone to lunch or happy hour, or intentionally going deeper than small talk in conversations. Moving up the spectrum means you get to know your people better and they get to know you better.
Benefits of Connecting with Your Team
Before we jump into practical ways you can start connecting better with your team, it is important to understand what benefits it can bring. Here are a few key advantages to fostering team connection:
1. Improved Team Unity and Communication
The ones most directly and immediately impacted by your efforts to connect better will be your employees. Your direct reports and other members of the team you already work with on a regular basis will likely get to know you very well, at least professionally. When people know you deeply, they get to know how you work, how you like to see things presented to you, and how you prefer to communicate; they generally have a better idea of your definition of “good work”. But the rest of the organization whom you don’t work with regularly will not have this perspective, so it is important to get exposed to others whenever possible to help build this.
Maybe you have already met everyone at your organization because you are a part of the interview process, or because you have periodic company-wide meetings. If this is the case, they likely know who you are, but not much more than that. Their perspective might be, “Yeah, she’s the CEO, I don’t really know her and never get to talk to her, but I know she is in charge, that’s where the orders come from.” Finding other opportunities to connect better with all members of the organization can help challenge this” ivory tower” perspective. I think this can help your employees feel more comfortable with you, which means they will also be more likely to voice a concern or share their input.
2. Higher Employee Retention
When you and your employees get to know each other and become comfortable with each other, it becomes part of the culture of the organization, something that employees come to expect. As a result, they will tend to stick around longer than employees who don’t feel connected. This low turnover is a huge benefit in many ways, but maybe best of all is that it gives your employees a better chance of connecting more deeply with each other and even further enhances the culture and environment.
3. Improved Customer Service
Believe it or not, doing a better job connecting with your team can have a profound impact on your customers as well.
To start, if connecting with your team has made your employees happier and more engaged, your customers who are interacting with them will probably be the first to notice. Happy people tend to be contagious; if you have employees who are answering your phones, for example, that employee may be the only rep from your company that customer works with that day or week or even longer. Your customer’s experience is now firmly and solely in the hands of that one employee, so you want to make sure to create an environment where people can answer the phones with smiles on their faces.
Also consider prospects you want to convert to customers. Especially if your customer is considering a long-term commitment with you, they may want to know about your company’s culture. They know that happy employees typically lead to better experiences for the customer, so it is in your best interest to be able to (honestly) show off an excellent company culture with low turnover.
4. Better Business Results
If your employees are happy, your customers will be happy, and this is a measure of success in itself. Customer satisfaction is often one of the most important key performance indicators on many teams.
It’s great to work with people who are happy, both employees and customers, but there is something more to be considered in how connecting with your team can bring results.
In a previous article, I discussed the importance of creating clarity on your team. The premise is essentially that your company’s vision and goals should be communicated over and over again to all members of the team, every chance you get. The moments you create in an effort to connect better with your team are also perfect opportunities to communicate clarity. In addition, if you have strong relationships with your employees, they are more likely to want to help you and the rest of the team achieve goals.
We have also discussed how connecting with your employees can lead to lower turnover. Over time, you will build a loyal team where many team members have been with the company for many years. They will not only have strengthened their expertise in their roles, but they will have done so in the context of your company and your customer base, which potentially makes them better for your team than a seasoned veteran in the field who has never worked with your company.
Strategies for Cultivating Team Connection
Now that we understand the impact made possible by connecting with your team, here are some specific suggestions you can put into practice to connect better with your team.
1. Walk the Halls
It is quite hard for your employees to get to know you, or vice versa, if you spend all day in your office and never interact with them. Walking the halls creates countless opportunities for you and your employees to connect. It is important to distinguish between walking the halls and scheduling meetings with all the individuals on your team. Hallway interactions are more organic, so typically these interactions feel much more human and less like you are just checking a box.
With the rise of remote workers, walking the halls is obviously more difficult, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If your organization uses an instant messaging platform, you should participate every once in a while, in the group chats. This is a great way for remote workers to stay connected when the organic interactions of the office halls are simply not possible. These group chats can seem like a waste of time, but when the alternative is a team full of people who never interact, I think they are actually tremendously valuable and can even improve productivity.
2. Observe Department Meetings
This one can be tricky because it can backfire easily. You want your team’s meetings to be productive on their own without you, and inviting yourself to their meetings unexpectedly can hint that you don’t trust they are spending the time wisely. If you feel the need to attend department team meetings because you think they need supervision, I suggest instead working closely with that department head to express your concerns.
If your motives are pure and your team understands that you just want some perspective and a chance to see them in action, then your primary job is to just observe. You may find that you want to submit ideas for thought and participate in the discussion, which is fine, just be sure you don’t take over the meeting and dominate the discussion. If done right, your employees will feel like you are along for the ride as opposed to just sitting at the top looking down waiting for results.
3. Organize Company Events
This is one that many companies already do in some capacity, but it is an important one for a few reasons. First, it makes the statement that creating opportunities for your people to connect is enough of a priority that you are willing to spend money (maybe even close the office for the day). Company events can include holiday parties, retirement parties, summer picnics, and volunteer groups.
I have been to many company events where we are able to interact in very different ways than we can while at work. This leads to shared experiences, inside jokes, and a more well-rounded understanding of one another. People work better together if they have connected more deeply in different ways, and company events provide exactly this opportunity.
While none of us can add more hours to the day, we can certainly choose to be intentional about fostering connections at all levels of our organization. By making this a priority, we can cultivate a workplace where team members are happier, more comfortable, and more engaged with one another. In this positive and united environment, not only will our employees thrive, but our customers will be more satisfied, and our business will be primed for enduring success.