We’re genetically wired to belong

The sense of not belonging is widespread, yet few people openly express that feeling. We think we’re the only ones who feel that we don’t fit in; in reality, it’s a very common feeling.

Belonging is a basic human drive, along with food, water and shelter. Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging – we’re genetically wired to belong; it’s how we survive and thrive in life and at work.

What we really want is those moments when we feel that we belong to a team, we matter, and we’re able to be our authentic self. We don’t want to be seen as a number, a gender, or an ethnic box. Fostering a sense of belonging helps reduce stress levels, and consequently improves physical health, emotional well-being, and performance.

These moments of human connection, of belonging, are not that hard to create, and they don’t require an organisation-wide initiative or policy change. Here are a few ways you can create a culture where everyone feels they belong:

A family approach

At a time when organisations are looking for new ways to build high-performance teams, perhaps they should be considering a family approach to business that emphasises trust and values.  Taking a family approach means establishing a foundation of trust and a cultural promise to unite as one; to perform with purpose and the healthier whole in mind. A team work environment where camaraderie means having each other’s back and not judging one another.

Those leaders who can successfully build a family environment in their department will not only achieve more in the short term, but will build a foundation of hard work, determination and perseverance for the long run.

Create a development plan

When organisations take a personal interest in helping their employees’ development, employees feel valued and motivated to give back to the organisation.

It tells them they’re safe and you’re planning on them being here for a long time. They belong. You bothered to lay out this plan just for them, and they clearly know what they need to do to grow here. They’re part of the tribe, and you’re putting energy into figuring out how they can be part of the tribe in a bigger way. Everyone on the team should be aware of their succession plan.  Be clear in establishing a road-map to get employees excited about the next stage of their careers.  Be transparent with everyone’s plan and allow others to participate in the plan.  With everyone pulling for one another’s success, it eliminates traps and cultivates a culture of winning.

Share stories

An important part of creating a sense of belonging is sharing our stories. Storytelling means two things. First, you, as the storyteller, care enough about your audience’s career journeys to show your own vulnerability and share your mistakes and successes. We can learn from each other. Second, we can begin to see ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We begin to see possibilities. This is even more powerful if the storyteller “looks like you.”

Storytelling is my favourite technique to generate belonging because we, as humans, are also wired to respond to stories. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, has found that hearing a story with a beginning, middle, and end causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger our human ability to connect, empathise, and make meaning. It is through our storytelling that we find our way to belong.

Avoid cliques

Sure, we all “click” with certain people more readily than we do with others. That’s only natural. But if you notice some employees seem to be regularly excluding others — maybe members of a certain department socialize after work but one or two people are not invited — take it seriously. Those who are left out know it … and it doesn’t feel good.

It’s amazing how little difference there can be between high school dynamics and workplace dynamics. And while leaders can’t and shouldn’t interfere with friendships between employees, they can set an example of inclusion.

They can have frank discussions on the hurtfulness of making someone feel exiled. They can hold fun workplace events and celebrations to strengthen bonds between all co-workers.

It’s worth making an effort to help everyone feel they belong. Generally leaders do set the tone, so when you focus on belonging, everyone will.

Encourage people to speak up

Enable people to express their voice and allow their perspectives to be heard.   People shouldn’t feel that they require permission to express their opinions.   The goal is to activate the team, not restrict their participation.   The more people you get involved in the conversation, the more you can benefit from a family environment that embraces differences.    This builds loyalty, grows confidence and solidifies a foundation of trust.    Additionally, the expression of multiple voices allows for the discovery of opportunities previously unseen.

Develop your leaders

The impact of leaders failing to create a sense of belonging with employees not only affects how much they enjoy their work; it has a significant effect on their ability to be productive.

Maurice Kerrigan Africa is committed to helping you unleash the performance potential of your people and offers a three-day AUTHENTIC Leader-Manager (Level 1) training course that will take you on a journey of self-discovery about your own authentic leadership style, as well as how to improve your ability to lead others.

Book your seat at their upcoming course scheduled for 08 – 09 and 15 May, 2017 in Johannesburg.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s public course training schedule.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email info@mauricekerrigan.com.









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