You walk into a store and the cashier is more robotic than friendly. No eye contact; and repeating the same “Have a nice day” with no expression of sincerity. Your coworker is demanding a document that you are sure they already have and this might be the fourth time you’ve sent it to them. It’s easy to get sucked into a malaise of disconnectedness. You start putting up walls and keep everyone at arm’s length. It’s easy to fall into being out for yourself and out of touch with others. And you begin to shut others out.
I was fortunate to facilitate a team of 65 in the construction business. The theme was Team Dynamics but what it really was about was connecting. Truly and literally standing in another department’s shoes to understand their perspectives and their challenges is an amazingly transformative act. The outcome was magical. I’d say the group was at least 75% men. Men in the rough and tumble world of construction where swearing is encouraged and feelings need to be checked at the door. I have to say I was nervous. Would these guys really buy in? Would they really be able to open their hearts and minds to their teammates? Well, I’m happy to say they did and the end result was powerful.
Here is how to harness the power of connection:
1. It always starts with the team alliance.
This is a tenet of CRR Global. It’s basically an agreement of how we want to “be” with each other. As long as there’s clarity and agreement some remarkable things can happen. I worked with a technology team that wanted to make sure that “swearing” was encouraged. As long as everyone is onboard, then swearing can be encouraged. It could just as easily have been respect or openness or confidentiality. You just need to be clear about how you want the team to be together and starting off a meeting or project or team dynamic session should always have an alliance. I have to say that during the facilitation with the construction company, I had to remind them a few times that “respect” was on the alliance. When ground rules are set, people are more likely to participate.
2. First seek to understand.
This is habit 5 from Stephen Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In a nutshell, this is all about active listening. It’s not listening until I can get a word in edgewise. It’s not biting my tongue until I can impress you with my retort. It’s seeking to understand. It’s about being open and non judgmental. In a room full to the brim with 65 people, they all listened attentively to each other. The knowing head nods. The smile of acknowledgment. How often can you say that?
3. Everyone has a voice.
What’s powerful about the “lands work”from CRR Global is that each “land” (department) gets to speak up without any interruption. Each person gets to represent what it’s like in their “land” and there can be no disagreement, no denial. If a project coordinator says “I have to juggle the demands of four superintendents.” There is no denying that. It is that project coordinator’s truth. Their unadulterated voice. It’s powerful to here a co-worker state a truth that you didn’t even realize. Connecting involves everyone having a voice.
4. Stepping into someone else’s shoes.
This is the magical part of “lands work”. All the superintendents took a seat while everyone else in the company stood in their “land”. They then spoke on behalf of the superintendents. There was one woman from administration who when she stood in each of the other lands said “I don’t like this land.” She acknowledged how difficult the other positions in the company were. The superintendents were constantly on the road, the business development folks were constantly handling rejection, the project coordinators had to deal with uncooperative sub contractors. And on and on and on. I could see the impact of having the other people who didn’t have your job speak on behalf of your job and suddenly connection was created. They get it. They were able to move on with a new understanding of each other that would not have ever existed without this effort.
5. Making sure there is a take away.
In the end, there must be an understanding. What will this group take away from this experience? How can we take this forward? In a nutshell someone said “Empathy”. There is a new understanding that for each of them to be clear what the priority is. An understanding of what the effect they have on others. Some folks wanted an email with a clear subject line, some folks want a voicemail and still others wanted to get a text. The point was they had a new understanding of flexing and adapting to each other because now they understood each other’s perspective.
So I challenge you to be more connected at work. When was the last time you asked the Project Manager what their challenges are and what do they need from other departments to be more effective? Give it a try and sit back and listen. Really listen.