Building Safety (Part 2): Do I Belong Here?

As a business coach in The Woodlands, I am always struck by the great sense of belonging that this community generates. It is welcoming but not overly so. People there have to get to know you. Yet, there is something special about The Woodlands. And the people who live there are proud to be part of this vibrant community.

All of us want to belong. As human beings one of our primal instincts is to look for belonging cues. And, like The Woodlands, we want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Belonging is about connection. Very often, one of the challenges I work with as a personal business coach in companies is with the culture and creating a greater sense of belonging.

There are companies who want their employees to feel like family. That sounds good. And when applied correctly it is great. People feel safe. When applied incorrectly it can bring a sense of separation, anxiety and feeling isolated. People will feel that they are in danger.

I had a client who ran his business like his personal family. He tolerated outbursts of anger, broken promises, missed deadlines and he had family favorites. For all the belonging cues he wanted to generate he failed as he let “his” family philosophy tear his company apart.

On the other side I collaborated with a company that created a sense of family, a wonderful sense of inclusion. It worked. What was the difference?

In the first company, accountability was subjective, selective and ultimately, because it was not consistent, ineffective. People could not count on or trust each other to get the work done right and on time. When disconnectors, which is what this type of behavior does, is allowed to proliferate, no one feels safe in getting their job done, there is little trust and whatever greater purpose they were working for as a team is destroyed. The employees were being included in a family that was toxic.

The second company ran things quite differently. It was a safe environment because everyone was held accountable. There was a sense of belonging because people felt safe because they could trust their teammates to do their work on time and correctly.

The idea of “family” inspires the idea of togetherness. Yet, you can be in a dysfunctional family where you are together physically but disconnected mentally and physically. This is not a place where you can pursue your self-improvement.

When there is accountability, collaboration and achievement of common goals at expected levels and in a timely manner, the bonding that takes place between individuals in the company serves as the foundation for greater growth, productivity and happiness.

Why? The social support network, you create at work, your family, is the primary driver of workers’ happiness and productivity. And, the studies on happiness and work back this conclusion.

Most of us have experienced the good and the bad “family” work environment. To answer the question: “Do I belong here?” Ask yourself the following questions:

What is this job doing for me?
What is it doing to me?
What does it have me becoming?
Is that acceptable?

If you like your answers stay. And, if you don’t and that you don’t feel safe. This is your cue to move on because you don’t belong and it is time to move on.

Group Culture Is a Powerful Force

As a personal business coach in Houston I have the opportunity to work with teams in corporations. In my personal business coaching in The Woodlands, I get to work with small businesses and the teams within the businesses.

Whether the organization is large or small there is a desire to have good culture. It has been shown in studies that a strong culture can increase income by several hundred percent! We know that a good culture works. We are generally not sure why it works.

But the bigger question is: How do we go about creating it? Like the kindergartners referenced in the last two posts, culture is created by a specific set of interactions. These interactions are based on social skills. In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle references three keys to building a good culture.

1. Build safety—which through our social signals build bonds of belonging and identity.
2. Share vulnerability—explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.
3. Establish purpose—tells how narratives create shared goals and values.

The three skills work together to create a strong culture. I highly encourage you to read his book. And when you read it, you will learn something new that will add to your personal development and self-improvement. It will also give you a new awareness of how you can contribute as an individual to building a culture within the team or group of which you are a part.

How the Kindergarteners Won

In the previous post I related an experiment that was done to highlight aspects that create a good culture in which teams can be productive. As a self-improvement business coach in the Woodlands one of the areas of focus in corporations and small businesses that I collaborate with has been regarding culture and how culture impacts not only a team’s efficiency but effectiveness.

The kindergarteners in the experiment won against teams of business students. They also carried the experiment to other groups. The kindergarteners defeated lawyers and CEOs. So, what was going on that created this unexpected result?

Let’s start with what we focus on, which is individual skills. If you think about it, individual skills are easy to focus on because they are the most visible. But, when it comes to team performance, it is not individual skills that matter. What matters is the interaction.

Let’s take a look at the business students. As a personal business coach in Houston, I have worked with talented young people. The business students had more talent individually than the kindergartners. But they were not engaged in collaboration, so much as what psychologists call, status management. They were figuring where they fit into the larger picture. Who is in charge? Is it okay to criticize someone’s idea? What are the rules here? Their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behavior is riddled with inefficiency, hesitation, and subtle competition. As a result of managing status their first efforts collapse and they run out of time.

The kindergarteners, on the other hand, appear to be disorganized on the surface. But when you view them as a single entity, their behavior is efficient and effective. They are not competing for status. They work energetically together. They move quickly, spot problems and offer help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes, which guides them toward effective solutions.

The kindergarteners succeed not because they are smarter but because they work in a smarter way. As we know, and the kindergartners prove it, group culture is a very powerful force.