No Connections, No Culture

Image: Claudio Schwarz

The first half day of my culture definition workshop is always spent on personality and communication because without self-aware individuals who understand how to build connections the culture is doomed to fail.

Yet, there are still so many organisations and teams out there that see relationship building as a secondary activity to the work itself, rather than an enabler for it.

As humans we are intrinsically wired to work together, but it can only ever be truly effective if we understand the people that we’re working with. What are their strengths and how can we leverage them? What are their opportunities for improvement and how can we help them? How do they like to receive communication and feedback so that it’s motivational and useful? How can we spot when people are struggling?

Self-aware individuals are the foundation for organisation and team success. In 2013, researchers Zes and Landis found that ‘Poor performing companies’ employees were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at firms with robust ROR’. The research also found that companies with a greater percentage of self-aware employees consistently outperformed those with a lower percentage.

That’s because the more self-aware individuals are, the more they recognise that they are not the finished product. They understand that there is always something to learn from others and their role is to contribute to a team, not command or constrain it.

When individuals take the time to fully understand their personality and technical strengths and then share it with others, empathy becomes possible. Empathy is the glue that holds relationships together. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. “In organisational awareness,” writes Chade-Meng Tan in his book Search Inside Yourself, “you understand the feelings, needs and concerns of individual people and how those interact with those of others and the organisation as a whole.”

What Meng’s saying is that in cultures of self-aware individuals, you ‘get’ each other and adjust the way you interact with each other as a consequence. In the great cultures I’ve been fortunate to work with, this is absolutely the case. Relationships are built and agreements formed on how work will get done, which in turn creates a safe environment within which to deliver, learn or fail.

Where relationships are strong, there’s loyalty, compassion, agility, cognitive diversity, healthy friction and a belief that anything is possible.

Where relationships aren’t strong there is blame, apathy, rigidity, individuality, communication breakdowns and a lack of trust in others to do the right thing.

As organisations around the world move to more hybrid ways of working (The Hybrid Handbook is coming soon! Subscribe to my newsletter to get a free copy here) relationship building will become more important. The opportunity for ‘chance’ meetings will be lost and organisations will need to be more deliberate about how they induct people into their culture.

Not only that, but for collaboration to work effectively when people are in different spaces, the relationships that they have with each other will be crucial in ensuring that cultural bonds and psychological safety are maintained regardless of where someone is located. Only then will expectations be met and success achieved.

Here are five things you can do to build relationships between employees:

  1. Spend the first 20–30 minutes of the working day asking people to share what they’ve done over the weekend (everyone shares at least one thing and how it made them feel)
  2. Ask team members to share insights into their personalities or communication preferences
  3. Hold a ‘Share a Story’ session where team members provide a 3-minute insight into a moment in their lives
  4. Use tools such as Gather to create opportunities for employees to ‘mix’ virtually and meet people that they wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to meet
  5. Build a social calendar so that people can mix inside and outside work (COVID restrictions permitting)

As a human race we are better when we are working together, but if we don’t understand each other, we have nothing.

Best-selling Author of Culture Fix | Keynote Speaker | Facilitator | Devoted Dad | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot