Increase Employee Engagement Through a Culture of Connection

As a leader, cultivating strong connections on your team or across your organisation should be one of your highest priorities. Research shows that people who work in organisations that develop a culture of connection are more efficient and productive. This is because these organisations encourage and support social coordination and cooperation – in other words, they’re more collaborative. 

But connection and collaboration typically don’t happen organically in most organisations. Leaders must set the tone and display prosocial conduct so that it permeates the company and becomes not just the norm but also the expectation.

Key Points:

  1. Leaders must actively promote a culture of connection and collaboration to enhance efficiency and productivity.
  2. Remote work, low job satisfaction, and increasing distrust post-pandemic pose significant barriers to fostering collaboration.
  3. Leaders can foster individual connections through proactive communication, expressing genuine interest, and active listening.
  4. Leaders can cultivate teamwork by setting high expectations, publicly recognizing team achievements, and building supportive relationships.

Post-Pandemic Roadblocks

But there are roadblocks in a post-pandemic world:

  • Many employees spend more time out of the office, making social interaction and collaboration difficult.
  • Employee satisfaction is at historically low levels (only 20% of employees report being extremely satisfied at work over the last two years after many years of hovering around 27%).
  • We’re living during a time of increasing polarization and distrust

So, What’s The Leadership Opportunity?

At the Individual Level

Whether you’re a C-level, department head, or project team lead, here are three things you can do to cultivate a culture of connection and collaboration with individual members of your team:

  1. Take the initiative/be courageous – don’t wait for others to come up to you and start talking – in most cases, they’re probably waiting for you to talk to them first and may be too nervous to initiate a conversation. 
  2. Show sincere interest and be inquisitive by asking who, what, when, and how questions.
  3. Practice active listening – be present, make eye contact, and listen to understand rather than to respond.

At the Team or Organisational Level 

A lack of financial incentives is the most significant barrier to cultivating a culture of connection since most talent management systems are designed to reward individual achievement, not team accomplishments. As a leader, there are three things you can do beyond financial rewards to create a spirit of community and collaboration:

  1. Create a collaboration Pygmalion effect by setting high expectations for team coordination and performance.
  2. Publicly celebrate team accomplishments – celebrating exceptional team performance reinforces a sense of camaraderie and mission, which is critical to motivating people and teams.
  3. Cultivate supportive relationships – people are social animals; when social connections are strong, there’s more trust and fellowship, leading to more cohesive and productive teams.
A triumphant team at the top of a mountain

Start by implementing one or two of these approaches and see what results you get. Then, make sure to incorporate these practices into your leadership style to keep your team engaged, satisfied, and productive.

What is the Collaboration Pygmalion Effect?

The “collaboration Pygmalion effect” refers to a phenomenon where high expectations set by leaders can stimulate team coordination and performance. Similar to the original Pygmalion effect, where teachers’ high expectations led to improved student performance, leaders who expect and communicate high levels of collaboration can foster a more integrated and effective team.

By setting high standards, leaders create a vision for what the team can achieve collectively, which in turn motivates team members to work together more effectively to meet these expectations.

Fred Petito received his Doctorate in Marketing from Pace University and graduated from Columbia Business School’s Executive Development Program. He received his post-graduate Advanced Executive Coach training at the College of Executive Coaching and is a Board Certified and Leadership Challenge/LPI 360 Certified Coach. Formerly an attorney, Dr. Petito has been a speaker at numerous conferences including the Cannes Lions Festival.

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