How Peak Team Performance Can Be Reached by Focusing on Belonging

Can you recall a moment when you were travelling in a foreign country and ran across a fellow Canadian?

It’s an amazing moment, isn’t it?

You feel an instant connection, like you know this person.

Yet, in reality this fellow Canadian is just as much as a stranger as anyone else.

So, where does this feeling of connection come from?

Check it out on YouTube: An Undeniable Secret to Peak Team Performance

Belonging Makes Us Feel Connected to Others 

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. As Leary and Baumeister show in their 1995 study, our need to belong drives us. It controls our emotions, cognitions, and behaviours. 

As social beings, belongingness is essential to our wellbeing. Think about it, without being able to belong to social groups how would we have community, culture, or even society at all?

But how do we find belongingness among one another?

Related Study: [The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation by Leary & Baumeister]

We Find Belonging by Associating with Others

Choice assimilation is the process of choosing to adapt to the cultural norms of a group or nation. As shown by Brewer et al., assimilation has shown to be crucial within our evolutionary history as survival and security depended on being a part of a stable group.

And how can we create choice assimilation?

Related Study: [Optimal distinctiveness Theory: A Framework for Social Identity, Social Cognition and Intergroup Relations by Leonardelli, Picket and Brewer]

We Use Belonging Cues to Create Safe Places to Connect

Belonging cues are subtle hints that give us a sense that another person shares the same norms and values that we do. 

They can be as simple as visual signals like someone wearing the same jacket as your favourite sports team, or as complex as shared beliefs such as living in a democratic society.  

You see, although we all want to feel unique, as mentioned above, we also all have a need to belong. Our need to belong is best satisfied through associating ourselves with others which is achieved by belonging cues. So, our optimal sense of inclusion is found between differentiating ourselves, and using belonging cues to associate with others to achieve that “Goldylocks” feeling (as depicted in the graphic below)

* Image: Leonardelli, G. J., Pickett, C. L., & Brewer, M. B. (2010).

belonging cues are non-verbal cues that we all use to create connection and psychological safety within a group. Psychological safety is the ability to freely exhibit your ideas, opinions and abilities without fear of experiencing negative consequences to your job or self-esteem.  

This is important for managers because ….it is this greater connection and establishment of trust that makes up a great team. 

Related Reading: [Culture Code by Daniel Coyle]

So how do you establish this culture of belonging to elevate your team to the next level? 

I have three easy guidelines you can follow to create greater belonging within your team:

1. Create a Deep Connection

Help your team get to know each other in an emotional and compassionate way. This creates a bond of trust between team members because it shows them that they can confide in each other beyond the surface level. It proves to them that they all have each other’s back. 

Creating this deeper connection doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a team lunch where you take the opportunity to get to know each other on a personal level. Find out what makes each other tick, where do you all come from, what are your stories. 

Not only will a deeper connection improve your employees producvitiyv and quality of work, but it will also improve their physical health as well as their psychological and emotional well-being 

Related Reading: [Connectedness and Health: The Science of Social Connection Infographic]

2. Make Room for Safety

This is an essential step as it establishes the value of consistent feedback within a team. Without regular and constructive feedback productivity plummets. Feedback is essential to the creative process as it is the tool that heightens ideas. Employees need to be able to take risks and not fear severe punishments upon making mistakes. 

It is essential to create a deep, empathetic level of safety. When there is a foundation of psychological safety team members are able to give open and honest feedback which allows them to explore new perspectives thereby solving problems in more effective ways.

3.  Establish a Vision

This is about creating a plan for the future that your team feels a part of. Establishing visions, goals and a road-map for your team shows that you’re all in this together, for the long run.

When employees realize they are a part of the bigger picture they are able to buckle down and commit. This means they become dedicated to the work they are doing and show up with energy and enthusiasm. When they show up with commitment and energy, their productivity and quality of work skyrockets. 

In other words, when you show your employees that they are part of a larger picture within the organization employee engagement increases because when employees realize there is a future for growth and opportunity within a company they work to achieve their potential. 

To Sum It Up...

We all need to feel like we belong to a group.

Our sense of belonging is achieved through associating with others. 

Associating with others is accomplished through belonging cues.

Belonging cues create three foundational pillars for an ideal work environment:

  1. Developing connection through empathy  
  2. Use safety to encourage feedback  
  3. Organize a vision through action and involvement

Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups. Bantam.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497

Leonardelli, G. J., Pickett, C. L., & Brewer, M. B. (2010). Optimal distinctiveness theory: A framework for social identity, social cognition, and intergroup relations. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 43, pp. 63-113). Academic Press.

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