Creating a sense of belonging with your teams – five essential leadership actions

Have you heard the phrases ‘best buys’, ‘investments’, ‘value for money’ or similar words that make you huff in your virtual meetings?

Sanitising our language means we dilute the many complexities of what it means to make social change happen. It can make us uncomfortable when we express true feelings and empathy towards people, including our own staff. So we depersonalise what is a people-centred sector.

Last month Aid Works began supporting a Third Party Monitoring project on cash transfers in South Sudan, and health systems strengthening project in Somalia and Somaliland. The work is a mixed approach of remote support with some excellent team members on the ground.

In the words of Brené Brown:

‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’

 We’ve reflected on the leadership actions that have helped us create a sense of belonging with our teams:

1. Listen to your team as human beings not employees

Are you comfortable talking about how your staff are really feeling?

Do you listen to them or are you distracted worrying about your next meeting?

Do you support them properly?

Are you focusing on risks rather than finding out what their real challenges are? 

What has helped us – is organising one-to-ones with colleagues, to discuss them as a person.

2. Make conversations about people not just productivity

Leaders must invest more time in attending to the emotional wellbeing of their team members and listening to what’s really important to them. If you don’t, you will spend time and energy trying to manage, what looks on the surface like, unproductive behaviour.

It’s easier said than done. And we constantly reflect and improve on how we support or facilitate projects from a distance.

The more we engage with our team members as human beings – the more productive the projects become.

Checking in regularly with your team is essential – just to say hello – and see how they are – not to give them tasks.

3. Change up your team meeting agenda

Over the past 12 months we’ve worked in consortiums of organisations where colleagues have never met! When facilitating meetings we encourage teams to open up by asking questions like ‘what’s your covid-19 office view?’ or ‘what’s your favourite book?’. This helped to make meetings more personal and encourage some smiles and laughs. But we realised that wasn’t quite enough as it didn’t encourage people to show vulnerability (a small amount is all that’s needed).

We now ask one extra key question – instead of starting with achievements – we ask ‘what are you grateful for?‘ – before moving on to the work questions (achievements, constraints, next steps). We tell team members in advance that we’re doing this and why it’s important. I want to open a door of personability (yes, a made up word).

4. Have regular learning sessions to reflect with your team

It’s easy to move from one meeting to another without stopping to pause and reflect. We stop for pause moments where we reflect on ‘what happened, what can we learn, what one improvement can we take on?’

5. Give gratitude more than you evaluative/give critical feedback

Leadership books have spoken about the 3:1 ratio: every time you give some sort of evaluative/critical feedback, give three times as many moments of gratitude. The ratio doesn’t really matter – it’s the posture of being thankful to your teams and colleagues. And also about showing true gratitude to your consortium partners and sub-contractors.

It’s all about people, people, people.

By combining 1-5 above, over time you (and we) see better ideas come out from the team and we establish a more equitable team dynamic.

These are the kinds of discussions we will have in our new workshop ‘Unleashing Your Inner Leader’  see more details here.