What’s the Key Word for Leading in the New Normal? Belonging

By Hien DeYoung, PCC

In a 2021 McKinsey quarterly report, research showed that 51% of employees quit their jobs due to a lack of belonging. With COVID quarantines behind us (hopefully) and the hybrid work environment in front of us, it’s not surprising that belonging is the trending need among team members. Dr. Kelly-Ann Allen describes belonging as a “subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences.” This psychological definition is also an accurate description of the components of our work environment.

The sense of belonging is how our brain measures whether or not we are safe, and our needs will be met. Belonging is a deep seated need. It is no surprise then that belonging is what companies are trying to solve for in retaining talent. Let’s look at how leaders can actuate belonging.


Having Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations are difficult because we are afraid of breaks in the relationships with our team members. Currently, when retention of key talent and specialized skills is especially difficult, how do we have difficult conversations and still contribute to a team member’s feeling of belongingness?

First provide non-judgmental factual feedback towards up-skilling the team member. A good process for this is the SBI (Situation, Behavior, Impact) Feedback Framework. Once feedback is provided, articulate to the employee that you are invested in their success, and you would like to coach them so they can determine what will work best for them in their situation. Depending on the feedback and the situation, they may be ready to proceed with coaching immediately. Alternatively, they may need time to first process the feedback.

Second apply coaching going forward. Coaching enables co-creation of a solution so there’s ownership from the team member; it shifts the responsibility for outcomes back to the team member; and coaching is an ongoing conversation that deepens the relationship between you and the team member thus contributing to belonging. A well written and researched coaching resource for leaders is Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. It’s a short book that’s fun to read and deeply insightful, with seven brilliant coaching questions.


Create a Team Working Agreement

Articulate in writing the shared understandings, shared identity, and components of psychological safety the team agrees to.

A Team Working Agreement enables a team to flex and adapt to what’s happening in their work environment whether they work remotely, hybrid, or onsite. The value of this document is the team’s discussion and engagement with each other on the three components that drive team culture. For a deeper dive read David Burkus’ book, Leading From Anywhere. You can also find worksheets for creating a Team Working Agreement on his website.


Create Opportunities for Unplanned Conversations

Unplanned (and undervalued) hallway and lunchroom conversations are now recognized as micro-relationship building moments that facilitate relationships and work. So how do we have this in a remote or hybrid environment, or an onsite environment where you may be one of a handful of people present?

Create a routine where you log into your own meetings 15 minutes early and/or stay on 15 minutes after the meeting has concluded. You don’t have to do this for every meeting. Choose meetings where there’s a broad section of the team coming together. Then let your team know you’ll be doing this to encourage “hallway” conversations amongst team members.

Have “office hours” where team members can drop in and talk to you about anything. You can make office hours more interesting by assigning themes to them that are personal or work related. The office hours can be in person, via video or even using a chat technology like Slack.

Finally, the best ideas for actuating belonging in your team is from your own needs for belonging from your manager and with your team. What does belonging look like for you in actions from your manager and with your team? How can you plant seeds of belonging with your manager and team? Ideally when would these micro-moments of relationship building take place? What stands in the way of you acting on these insights?


Start Today!

To learn more about how to build sense of  belonging, team performance, and strengthening your leadership skills, contact Hien for a consultation.