Leadership in the age of disconnection

You might be surprised how quickly trying out one or two of these four ingredients every leader can use to create more connected teams starts to nourish results.

This is likely to be the case whether you’re in a formal leadership position with a title and decision-making responsibility, or, you’re a leader by behaviour but not title.

Growing focus on community and connection

It’s been well over a year since I stopped putting out new episodes of Life Without Us, the podcast I used to host about creating community and connection.

Two things have happened since then that I want to highlight.

First, some really good podcasts about community and connection have been released.

Like this one

And this one

Second, a bunch of folks in my nonprofit network here in Ontario, Canada have put out some great new content related to community and connection.

Like this civic optimism content from the Toronto Foundation, this building belonging cohort from the Tamarack Institute, and this new Community Living Room fun-raising initiative from my friends at Reset who are asking for supporters old and new to sign up by March 31st.

A number of people of different skin tones with their hands laid across a tree branch.

Many years ago on a road trip along La Ruta del Sol in Ecuador one of my cousins taught me a local expression that translates roughly to “you have a nice back.” This was shared as we ate the best patacones I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant that was near empty when we arrived and then slowly filled up as we dined.

We weren’t the reason more people came into that restaurant. I’m not the reason more and more people are producing content about community and connection. Nonetheless, I’m feeling the niceness of my back right now. Or rather, my podcast’s back!

The actual reasons for the renewed focus on community and connection are layered. Fundamentally, though, a significant number of people are feeling more disconnected. 

Four ingredients every leader can use to create more connected teams 

These ingredients are inspired by episode six of my podcast in which I shared the story of the weekly, online cooking class Natalie Bay and her friends founded in the early days of the pandemic. Four years later the group is still gathering for classes on Mondays, and that fact alone should be enough to let you know the four ingredients that stem from the episode are legit.

These four ingredients will not address all of the layers behind the feelings of disconnection that your team members and other people in society are experiencing. There are layers at play that your organization needs to address by centring equity, diversity, and inclusion, and providing decent work to your team members. There are also layers that echo beyond what any one team can tackle.

What these four ingredients will do, though, is provide you as a leader with simple, straightforward foundations in your efforts to be more intentional around how to create more connected teams. 

Ingredient #1: Consistent

Commit to gathering regularly together. Whether it’s a weekly or monthly team meeting, and / or a bi-annual longer gathering, pick a time that works for your team and stick with it. If a regular gathering gets canceled or moved frequently because of your schedule, then that becomes the culture of your team and an indication that you don’t value connection. 

If you are showing up but not getting the attendance you were hoping for, take the time to check in with your team members to identify and work together to address any barriers to participation. A consistently held team meeting that lands in the middle of a few team members’ daycare pick up is easy to fix and silly to insist on.  

Ingredient #2: Repetitive 

Engage in a regular practice together. This is the kind of thing that after a while your team members ‘just get,’ but that you would need to explain to a new team member, or guest. 

For example, I once held weekly meetings with a small team guiding a strategic plan development process. At the start of each meeting we ‘checked in’ by taking turns answering a quirky question. From “What’s your favourite emoji?” to “What makes you feel cozy?,” these questions helped us get to know each other, grounded us in our commitment to designing and delivering a relational process, and were a fun way of transitioning us into our meeting. 

Start with something simple, make sure it won’t eat up too much of your gathering time, and do what you can to keep it fun and easy to take part in. 

(Note: in groups larger than around six people, if your practice involves each person speaking you might want to break into pairs. This addresses the time a full round table of sharing would take, and also avoids making quieter participants uncomfortable with having to speak in front of a large group.)  

Ingredient #3: Collaborative

Create something together. This can be as simple as co-creating your repetitive element (e.g. each person writes down a quirky question, you put them in an envelope, and each meeting someone new chooses that day’s question.) Or, it can be as elaborate as one of those team building exercises where small groups are given toothpicks, baby marshmallows, and several office supplies and are invited to build something together.

(PSST: if you’re looking to bring in facilitation support to create a fun, collaborative, and marshmallow-free experience, please get in touch with me. I’d love to hear from you!)

Ingredient #4: Generative

Take part in something together that might have ripples beyond the original activity. For example, learn something new together like Natalie and her friends do in their cooking class. Then, pay attention to the ripples: the various ways your team members stay connected to this experience and each other after it has taken place. 

As Natalie shared in the podcast when I asked her about the ‘magic ingredients’ that make the Monday night online cooking class work so well:

“It’s this connection that we’ve got even when we’re not sitting in front of our screens and eating [together.] It’s that everybody’s got random pantry ingredients now that they know how to cook with and when they open up their cupboards they see those and there’s a connection to everybody.” 

One more magic ingredient

Did I leave out an ingredient? Perhaps the most obvious one given the podcast episode that inspired this article? Yes, I did. 

Food is a magical ingredient. We all know it. And, like everything, how you use it matters. 

For leaders looking to create more connected teams, ideally food is something you thoughtfully (i.e. with consideration for dietary needs and cultural practices) mix in with these other ingredients and not a stand alone tactic. 

There’s nothing wrong with bringing in a team lunch from-time-to-time, or hosting a potluck. However, lunch after a short workshop teaching team members something new and fun will have a much deeper impact. First, it will ensure they have something new to talk about during lunch. Second, it will help reinforce the generative nature of the activity by providing space to process their collective memory of the experience.

Looking for a facilitator that centres community and connection? Click here to book a free consultation with me. I’d love to hear from you!

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