How to Build a Foundation for Belonging

Lately, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about what leaders need to do in order to make teams work better. Recent studies in organizational psychology suggest that the foundation of any successful team must be a sense of safety and belonging.

In Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, he refers to the practice of building safety as “a fluid, improvisational skill—sort of like learning to pass a soccer ball to a teammate during a game. It requires you to recognize patterns, react quickly, and deliver the right signal at the right time.” Like any skill, it takes practice and experimentation to perfect.

If you want to improve the performance of your team, here are some of the strategies Coyle suggests you start practicing:

  1. Don’t just listen—show that you’re listening

When we listen closely, we send certain signals with our bodies and facial expressions. We tend to tilt our heads slightly forward, lean our bodies toward the speaker, blink less frequently, and arch our eyebrows. People engaged in close listening also tend to offer periodic affirmations to encourage the speaker to continue. It’s also important not to interrupt, even if you really want to make a comment or ask a question.

  1. Be vulnerable

I’ve talked about the importance of vulnerability in leadership before, but it is especially important for building a sense of belonging. When you make a mistake, own it, and never get defensive. It’s important to send the message that you are just as human as everyone else on the team, and that you’re not always right. One easy way to achieve this is to use signal phrases that invite contradiction, like “this is just my opinion,” or “I might be wrong here.”

  1. Make sure everyone speaks

This strategy sounds simple but can be difficult to implement in practice, because not everyone feels equally comfortable speaking up in front of others. Some simple strategies for achieving this include requiring everyone to speak at least once at every meeting, inviting regular feedback, and setting up smaller forums where everyone is expected to share.

What teamwork strategies have you implemented at your organization? Were they successful? Please feel free to share. If you’d like to start a conversation, you can reach me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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