5 Ways to Connect With Your Team on a Personal Level

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Not that long ago, I was watching “The Wizard of Oz” with my family. I hadn’t seen the movie in years. During this viewing, however, I picked up on a new leadership lesson: the importance of connecting with your teammates as a real person.

Think about it: Throughout the film, the Wizard relies on mystery and fear to rule Oz. But when did he become most helpful? When he revealed who he truly was and personally engaged with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. From there, he was able to actually help them build the confidence to obtain what they’d always wanted — a brain, a heart, courage, and a homecoming.

Back in Kansas, or wherever you call home, the same idea applies. In fact, according to a survey on employee job satisfaction and engagement conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 74 percent of respondents stated their relationship with their supervisor was one of the top five factors influencing their engagement at work. As Gallup has found, when companies have a more engaged team, they’re more productive and more profitable.

How can you step behind the curtain and connect with your teammates on a personal level? Here are five places to start.

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1. Communicate frequently.

As a leader, communicating with your team is key. After all, it gives your team members the chance to ask questions, share ideas, and solicit feedback. As a result, they feel like they’re part of the bigger picture — as long as you actively listen and act on their suggestions. (Even explaining why you’re not able to act on them can go a long way.)

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More importantly, it gives you the opportunity to get to know them better: their strengths, their weaknesses, what interests they have inside and outside work. You’ll have a better idea of what they want their future to look like and how you and your company might play a role.

Best of all, there’s a variety of ways you can communicate with your team on a regular basis. You could schedule one-on-ones, plan team brainstorming sessions, or use communication tools like Slack. You could eat lunch with teammates or stop by for a quick chat when they’re taking a break.

2. Go beyond “How are you?”

Harvard Business School research shows that asking a single question like “How are you?” won’t get much of a response. Instead, you need to dig deeper, asking open-ended follow-up questions. And those should delve into what’s going on beyond work. Find out about their backgrounds and personal interests. You don’t need to know every detail of their lives — and you shouldn’t — but getting to know what sparks joy for them is an effective way of showing that you care about them as people, not just employees.

Personally, you can encourage your team to open up more by being transparent yourself. Discuss your interests, and tell stories about your life. That should be enough to make people feel more at ease. Another option for breaking the ice is to partake in team-building activities that can help everyone get to know each other’s talents and personalities.

3. Help each employee reach his or her goals.

“You need to hold people accountable to their goals,” Tom Ferry, CEO of Tom Ferry International, told CNBC. “One of the big steps in that process is having someone identify their true motivation, or why.”

You can achieve this by creating an environment that fuels this type of growth. Have team meetings to discuss goals as a group. Host one-on-one meetings with individuals to hear about what drives them in their work. Ask about their goals outside work, too — someone who wants to run a marathon or seeks a writing outlet may trigger new ideas.

“Finally, act as a coach and accountability partner as they implement their goals,” says Ferry. “When you take a genuine interest in your employees and impact their lives beyond the office, you build lasting relationships and a more loyal tribe.”

4. Recognize and celebrate.

I’m a fan of “The Office.” One of my favorite episodes is when Jim’s left in charge because Michael’s gone on an excursion to become “Survivor Man.” Jim decides to consolidate all birthdays into one celebration. Obviously, this doesn’t go well.

Individual birthdays were so popular at Dunder Mifflin because they made each employee feel appreciated. Even something as trivial as getting to decide what type of cake you get for your birthday makes you feel like a big deal.

Obviously, you can’t celebrate every day. But when it comes to milestones and important dates like birthdays and anniversaries, a little celebrating can go a long way — even via a handwritten note.

And don’t forget to recognize your employees’ hard work. Send a quick email thanking them for the thoughtful question they asked at the last meeting or acknowledging the improvement in their work. You can also surprise them with gifts that they’ll either enjoy or become more effective with.

5. Stop saying you don’t have time.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s not worth my time and energy to make plans with people who don’t follow through. For example, I had a friend who would always flake on our plans. Eventually, I stopped making plans with him at all and focused on spending more time with people who actually wanted to hang out with me.

The same idea is true as a leader. If an employee is constantly asking if you have a moment to discuss a project or conflict, only to hear, “Sorry, I don’t have time,” that person’s going to feel as if you don’t care. She’ll stop coming to you for help or advice — or leave your company altogether.

The better option is to make time for your team. That doesn’t mean always stopping what you’re doing. But, in the grand scheme of a day, we all have five minutes to respond to an email or refer someone to a resource he needs. If the teammate needs more time than that, ask him to schedule a time to talk with you. It shows that you value your time and his, and you want to give him your full attention when you can.

Connecting with your team on a personal level may not seem like a priority, but if you want to build and retain top talent, it’s an area you must focus on. When you do, you’ll be able to boost engagement, productivity, and profits — and build a foundation you can all grow on.

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