A Culture of Belonging



It’s wintertime in the U.S. and as we look towards the coming spring equinox, we are reminded of the warmth, optimism, and the replenishment that the coming months will bring. A similar feeling of warmth and growth happens when we spend time with our friends and families. We have a sense of inclusion, a sense of support and growth, of new beginnings. We are supported and encouraged to be our whole selves and to grow.

We experience a sense of belonging.

Belonging is not a new fad – we can trace the need to belong back to the Paleolithic days, where humans gathered in small groups to help secure their safety and increase the likelihood of survival. In those days, survival required groups to work together, and while that’s not a requirement today, being part of a group improves our quality of life by creating a sense of belonging.

Finding this sense of belonging is just as important professionally. As HR professionals, helping leaders create an environment where every team member feels this sense of belonging can have a huge impact on productivity and the bottom line.  The challenge is that people have different wants and needs when it comes to belonging.  They can include any combination of the following

  1. Peer / Team relationships 
  2. Trust relationships with management
  3. Work connection to the companies’ mission
  4. Challenging and/or meaningful work
  5. Recognition

Leaders often get wrapped up in their day to day work and can forget that part of building a strong team is fostering healthy and personal relationships on their teams.   Relationships form the foundation of team health and strength and when individuals have relationships with those that they work with they are much more likely to feel like they are in a place of belonging. 

A short while ago I was leading a small team where all but of one of the people had work that was very related and in our weekly team meeting there was always lively discussion among most of the team.   However, the one person who had different work (Adrian) simply sat quietly and did not participate.  This went on for a while until Adrian explained to me that he did not feel like he belonged on this team.  Adrian missed the security provided by sharing experiences with like-minded people. I decided to find common ground for Adrian and the rest of his teammates.  Since it was not possible to change Adrian’s work assignments, I searched for common ground in our personal lives.  We all have struggles and challenges, joy and pain, etc. 

We began using the first 20 minutes of our team meeting doing a “check-in” where each person shared something, but it could not be work related.   Adrian led off by sharing some personal health problems he was battling and while it was a bit uncomfortable initially, we quickly started to connect on an emotional level.  After a few short weeks, the depth of our conversations became intense and the connection between the people on our team reached depths that I have never seen before. Most importantly, Adrian now felt like he belonged as we formed relationships that were warm and comfortable and not around day to day work.

The table below suggests some actions that we can help leaders and the resulting expected behavior change:

If our leaders are successful in creating a culture of belonging then employee engagement and satisfaction will certainly increase, this in turn will increase productivity and will reduce attrition.   In addition, inclusivity will follow as when we feel like we belong someplace we then naturally feel included.  



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