The world that we think we live in no longer exists. Everywhere you look, you can see an environment that simply won’t stand still. In the words of the great American baseball legend Yogi Berra, “the future ain’t what it used to be.”
The forces of change are radically redesigning our business landscape just before our eyes. Change is hard. Change can be disorienting, and the reorientation process can be especially difficult. Many people we partner with on the transformative change journey tell us that although they knew they were on the organization’s team from the past, they’re uncertain whether they will be on the team for the future. They’re not at all sure if they belong.
The absence of this sense of belonging to the business of the future can create a huge deficit of creativity, innovation, and performance. It seems that we’re all in a perpetual state of asking ourselves, “Do I have what it takes?” to be relevant in the future. Even worse, when people don’t feel like they belong, they spend most of their time trying to create value for themselves (to validate their personal value to the group) rather than build it for their team or their organization. In worst-case scenarios, people who continue to feel that their membership on the team is in question will actually began to silently hope for the team and business to fail – as if their sense of not belonging is made better by the team’s failure.
The need to belong is a fundamental human motivation. The prevailing belief is that human beings have a pervasive drive to form lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. The hypothesis that people are motivated to form and maintain interpersonal bonds is not new. However, this is a big deal in the current environment. Today’s uncertainty and disruptive change in the external marketplace has created a “belonging paranoia” internally for many people.
More than ever, it’s leadership’s responsibility to build “belonging connective tissue” between the future state vision for the business and each individual’s importance in bringing it to life. Here are three suggestions to help create an authentic feeling of belonging to the team for the future.
1. If we are going to go where we’ve never been as a business, each of us will have to do things that we’ve never done. That means each of us. No one has special information or gets to start the race 50 yards ahead of others. It’s in the shared vulnerability, curiosity, experimentation, and creativity that a true sense of belonging and being on the team together takes shape.
2. In their book, Ubuntu, authors Lundin and Nelson talk about the humanity, equality, and the value of each person that typifies the meaning of the African word “ubuntu.” Ubuntu, which in part means “I see you,” is a philosophy that considers the success of the group or the team above that of the individual. The environment that leaders must create is one where we own the whole before our individual piece, and where interactions take place in a context of a temporarily stable and enduring framework of concern for each other’s welfare. Unfortunately, the absence of a sense of belonging is fostered by the theme of the TV show “Survivor,” where everyone is focused on choosing the next person to be voted off the island.
3. The most important bond between leaders and team members can be established around these few and simple premises: a) “I see you” and “you are of value” to our business of the future; b) your contributions matter more than ever; and c) you are critical to our success.
In today’s change-ripe environment, building a sense of belonging to the team of the future for your people is an important proactive art of leadership and engagement. If you assume that a sense of belonging exists, you do so at your own peril.
Roots of Engagement Issue One – Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
Roots of Engagement Issue Three – People Want to Go on a Meaningful Journey
Roots of Engagement Issue Four – People want to Know their Contributions Make an Impact