Why leaders need to create connected cultures

Connection is “a bond among a group of people based on shared identity, empathy and understanding that moves self-centered people toward group-centered membership.” Nothing boosts the engagement of a social sector organization’s beneficiaries, employees, donors and volunteers like connection.

Connection is a universal phenomenon, though different cultures refer to connection using different words and phrases. The French phrase “esprit de corps,” which literally means “the spirit of the body,” describes a connection among people. The Japanese call connection “Ittaikan,” which means “to feel as one body of people.” In Kanji, it is  “一体感” (一 = one, 体  = body, 感 = sense or feeling of). Cohesion, unity, social capital and attachment are also ways to describe connection. It’s interesting to note the word “corporation” is based on the Latin root word “corpus,” which means “body.” The definition of corporation is “a group of people combined into one body.”

Our leadership training and coaching firm, E Pluribus Partners, has spoken, taught and consulted with all sorts of organizations, including Greenwich (Connecticut) High School, Texas Christian University (TCU), the NASA Johnson Space Center, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Google, Scotiabank (Canada) and ITV (London). Each of these organizations benefits from developing a “connection culture,” where people feel connected to their organization’s mission, values, reputation, supervisors, colleagues and day-to-day work responsibilities. When people feel connected to their organization, they give their best efforts, align their behavior with organizational goals, share information and insights with decision makers even when it may dangerous to do so, and participate in the organization’s marketplace of ideas that feeds innovation and creativity.

There are three elements in a “connection culture”: vision, value and voice.

Vision

Vision exists when everyone in the organization is motivated by the mission, united by the values and proud of the reputation. Social sector organizations can boost the element of vision in their cultures by having people who benefit from their organization’s work tell their stories to remind everyone he/she serves a cause greater than self. Also, I recommend people get together and share stories about how they live out their values, such as excellence, integrity, love of people, kindness, etc.

Value

Value exists when all in the organization understand the needs of people, appreciate their unique positive contributions and help them achieve their potential. Value is the heart of a “connection culture.” I recommend organizations give employees permission to take breaks and go to lunch together so they can get to know one another as human beings. This develops intimacy, an essential element of trust. Not tolerating condescending, patronizing or passive aggressive behavior is also important to respect the dignity of all people. Supervisors can boost the element of value in a culture by getting to know the people they are responsible for leading, including their personal and career hopes and dreams, and helping them achieve those aspirations.

Voice

Voice exists when everyone in an organization seeks the ideas and opinions of others, shares his/her opinions honestly and safeguards relational connections. Keeping people in the loop and then seeking and considering their ideas and opinions on matters that are important to them help engage people. Leaders who have humility do this. Wise leaders like Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar, are intentional about it. Pixar’s directors get together regularly to help each other produce the best films possible. Pixar director Brad Bird and his producer John Walker set up a meeting once a week with their team of 200 plus people working on a film to keep them in the loop. Brad and John wander the halls of Pixar, connecting with the people they lead, and they are much beloved for their caring personalities and commitment to producing films the team and Pixar family will be proud to have created. Brad and John’s first film at Pixar was The Incredibles, a massive hit worldwide.

Just connect

Research shows people who experience an abundance of connection in their lives are more energetic, more creative and better at solving problems. They also live longer, according to a recent 20-year study of workplaces. The bottom line is that connection = productivity and life, whereas disconnection = dysfunction and death.

If leaders will be intentional about developing work cultures with vision, value and voice, they will see their colleagues and the organization as a whole flourish. Connected people are happy people. That’s why it’s wise to just connect.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out

Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

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