With the impending arrival of Halloween, many of us are naturally preparing for our neighbourhoods to be overtaken by ghosts, goblins, superheroes and wizards. Although this yearly event tends to be associated with decorating pumpkins and handing out candy, Halloween also provides us with some unique insights on the importance and value of fostering a sense of community in our organization.
As our neighbours, family, and friends can attest, Halloween is a pretty big event in our household. Every year, we transform the front of our house into this magical place for Halloween – the picture above offers a glimpse of what the neighbourhood children have in store when they visit our home.
Being a parent, it comes as no surprise that one reason why I go through all this effort is because I love kids. But there’s another reason behind this drive to create a unique and memorable display for the children and families in our neighbourhood.
While most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, researchers have found that we are also driven by three core psychological needs, one of them being relatedness. Studies has shown – and our collective human history repeatedly reminds us – that we are all driven to attain a sense of community; of feeling a connection and sense of belonging with those around us.
We’re compelled at an innate level to reach out and bond with those we relate to and who we share a common interest or experience with, a key driving force behind the popularity and growth of today’s social media networks.
This also explains why, year after year despite the rain and cold, my family and I spent hours outside setting up this elaborate display that will exist for only one night – because we’re driven by that core psychological need to connect and share a common experience with our neighbours and friends.
Now where this gets interesting, though, is when we realize that this core psychological need is not limited to our personal lives, but exists and requires attention in our work lives as well. In fact, if we look at some of today’s successful companies – organizations like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and The Container Store to name a few – we can see clear evidence that their leaders understand the importance of addressing this core psychological need.
The leaders behind these companies understand the importance of creating an organizational culture and environment that not only fosters among their employees feelings of commonality and belonging, but which nurtures a sense of community driven by a shared purpose.
With this in mind, here are three measures leaders can take to foster that sense of community in their organizations in order to fuel this sustainable and powerful motivational driver that’s essential to your organization’s long-term success and future growth.
1. Facilitate opportunities for employees to interact outside of their formal roles/functions
I’m sure it’s not surprising to hear that one of the things I enjoy about Halloween night is watching the reaction of the neighbourhood children as they take in the sights and sounds of our Halloween display. And yet, as much as I enjoy waiting to hear the excitement in the kids’ voices when they first see and hear the magical Halloween house awaiting their arrival, I also look forward to taking my turn going out with my girls to tour our neighbourhood in search of Halloween treats.
Granted, this is partly because I want to be a part of their Halloween experience. But another reason I enjoy this is because it gives me the opportunity to walk up to a neighbour who I otherwise wouldn’t talk to and extend a warm smile and thanks for their helping to create a magical night for my girls.
While I might overlook these neighbours when I’m out shopping or running my errands, Halloween gives me the opportunity to reach out and connect – even if with the most simplest of gestures – with other members of our community. Though brief and simple, these interactions nonetheless give rise to feelings of togetherness and belonging because it reinforces the fact that we share a common interest and goal.
In fostering a sense of community in your organization, this is without question the most critical first step you have to take – where you facilitate opportunities for employees from different teams, divisions or departments to interact and engage with one another to better understand the challenges and approaches they want to take to achieve the same goal.
One well-known example of this is Pixar, where the building was designed so that everyone who works for the company – whether they are computer animators or accountants – would have to meet in a common space to eat or have meetings so as to encourage cross-pollination of ideas and insights, if not also to help remind one another of how they share a common goal or purpose.
When we consider the faster-pace and increasing workloads employees and their leaders have to address on a daily basis, it’s very easy for us to limit our interactions to those we directly report to or who we collaborate with on a given day. However, if we are to create an innovative and thriving environment like that found in workplaces like Pixar, we need to be mindful of ensuring our employees expand their internal connections to better understand the realities and challenges being faced beyond their scope of view.
2. Encourage a sense of shared ownership in your collective efforts
When it comes to setting up this elaborate Halloween display, I’ve always made a point of getting my daughters involved by asking them to help plan out where we should place things. When they would ask me where we placed a particular decoration last year, I would simply reply it doesn’t matter what we did last year, where would you put this decoration today? Where do you think it would look the best and help to create the best overall effect?
Although my girls know I want to create this elaborate, memorable display, they understand that the details of where things go is less important to me as being able to share the responsibility of designing and laying out our decorations. In this way, the final display is not simply a result of my imagination and work, but of our collective creativity and efforts.
In looking at the nature of today’s work, it’s commonplace to find most people focusing on strategies for how to clear out your inbox, scratching things off your To-Do list, or putting out the latest fires that threaten to halt your team’s progress.
Of course, as all of us know, this kind of work isn’t what makes us jump out of bed excited to get started on the day. And yet, it’s nonetheless the reality of what we’re expected to complete or accomplish on any given day.
That’s why it’s important as leaders that we provide a context for our employees for why their efforts matter; that we demonstrate a connection between what matters to them and what matters to our organization.
Key to bridging these two needs is encouraging your employees to feel a sense of shared ownership in their collective efforts and with it, the drive to see each other succeed and grow. In this way, your employees can better manage the details because they have a clearer understanding of how their collective efforts are connected and serve to move your organization forward towards its shared purpose.
3. Honour the journey your organization has taken to get to this point
As you can imagine, the ability to set up such an elaborate display is not something that happens overnight, but is a reflection of years of collecting and saving various Halloween decorations for us to use with each successive year. Part of the fun in setting up this display is re-discovering certain pieces that we’d forgotten and being able to put up various decorations that you can’t get anymore which create a unique look to the overall display.
Of course, the variation in the types and styles of these decorations reflect in their own way our family’s history – of both good times when we’d buy an expensive Halloween decoration because it would be a great addition to our display, and tougher times when it seemed wasteful to spend money on something we’d use only once a year. While the neighbourhood children and their parents might not see it, it’s visible to us and helps to connect what we do today with where we were before.
In fostering a sense of community in your organization, it’s equally important to recognize that as much as it’s the accomplishments you collectively achieved, it’s also the events and circumstances your employees endured which serve to engender a sense of commonality and belonging. That’s why it’s important that we recognize those moments that challenged our assumptions or forced us to have to find another way to achieve our shared goals.
Indeed, as much as our wins give us the motivation to press ahead to the next target, it’s these moments that help us to understand what really matters to us and how we can collectively achieve what we set out to accomplish.
In recognizing and honouring the journey your organization has taken to get where it is, you will remind your employees of their connection to one another – of their collective drive to achieve and fulfil the shared purpose that defines why they do what they do.
Although Halloween lasts for one night, it nonetheless serves to remind us of the importance of fostering a sense of community and belonging in encouraging our employees to commit themselves to our shared purpose in order to ensure our collective success in both good times and bad.
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