People yearn for a sense of belonging.  Some want to go to work and feel just as connected to each other as they are to work.  Otherwise, it can be tragic to think that you are alone in a crowd because you do not entirely relate to others or even have a chance to get to know them.  Companies would bode well to provide more enriching communal experiences for their employees to bring them closer together.

Here Are Some Ways To Build Community In Teams:

1. Pre-Meeting “How Are You” Check-ins.  The goal is to have people get to know each other and learn about their lives outside of work as interesting people with families and not just experts with a particular role.  Five minutes spent chatting may seem like only a little bit of time, but when you add those dedicated moments before each meeting, it will build up over the long run and lead to positive results.  It is about sacrificing short-term efficiency for long-term productivity.  Professor Uri Hasson’s research at Princeton University shows that when people share personal stories with one another, even if they do not have anything to do with the topic of the meeting, neural coupling takes place.  This is the synchronization between the brains of the listener and storyteller. This strengthened cognitive connection between each other makes it more likely they will build rapport and work well together.

2. Trip Report Practice.  This is a simple communication practice that Eric Schmidt used at Google and was taught to him by his Executive Coach Bill Campbell.  He got people to share stories that lead to better decision-making.He would kick-off meetings by asking what they did on the weekend.  If somebody had traveled, he would ask for a trip report.  The responses would allow team members to know each other on a personal level, which went a long way in improving relationships.  Having these common connection points got everybody involved in the meeting in a fun way from the start.  Learning about what matters to people helps to build a stronger relationship.  It also turned out that sharing information early on led to additional contributions later in the meeting. 

3. Thank You Ritual.  Former Yahoo Executive Marissa Mayer began her staff meetings with THANK YOUs.  It was called family prayer – you had to thank another team for something that happened last week, big or small, and you could not thank yourself, and you could not repeat another person’s thank you.  It is an excellent way to recap the week, show gratitude, and build team camaraderie. 

4. Book clubs.  Those who learn together grow together.  Building camaraderie and teamwork by analyzing a book every 4-6 weeks to learn new concepts that can be applied to the workplace and our lives.  Collaborative learning is excellent for cultivating community, having fun, and building lasting bonds beyond the scope of work.  It is also really nice to have a common language in which to refer.

5. “Ask Anything” Approach.  This is an idea herald by Zappos Tony Hsieh.  He believes in a flat organizational approach, which is that the best ideas can come from any part of the organization.  Therefore, all his employees got to collaborate on the company’s core values, and not just the executive leadership team.  He launched a monthly employee newsletter, “Ask Anything,” which encourages employees to send an email and ask any question they want to get answered.  This approach can also be taken at the team levels as a way to share knowledge openly and build understanding.

6. Brief Weekly Check-ins. Teams getting in the habit of gathering once a week to clear the air on anything administrative – scheduling, events, or issue alerts can have its advantages.  For this segment, you can intentionally have no agenda or issues to be solved, just information exchange for as little as five minutes.  It can be a part of its own meeting, or it can be a component within a larger scheduled meeting.  A lot of time can be saved by not chasing down issues through emails and texts that can be solved in a meeting in 30 seconds.  This process to circulate information freely will help people feel like they are not existing in a silo and always know what is going on. 

7. Musical Connections.  When you listen to music with others, it creates bonding.  According to Srini Pillay, Harvard Medical School Professor, “physical synchrony to music makes people like each other more, remember each other better, and also trust each other more.  In fact, even as early as 14 months of age, children who are bounced in synchrony with an adult are more altruistic – they pick up objects that adults have dropped and give them back.”  Having team gatherings and events where people have musical experiences together can create more unity.

8. Talent Book.  It is nice to know the people you work with, and one way to do that is to have fun profiles of people that include a brief bio of their interests and talents.  It is an easy way of getting people connected through similar interests and starting conversations around interesting topics.  The book can include anything you want; it can even be expanded to include people who have had a profound impact on you or people that you admire. Zappos has a culture book they give out to people, which contains company highlights, individual achievements, funny moments, and weird times.

9. Collaborative Spaces.  Architects like to talk about spaces for serendipitous encounters, which can lead to enhanced collaborations.  Steve Jobs’ desire was that the only bathroom at Pixar be in the center so workers from different parts can mingle.  You can create spaces in your office where people are directed to those areas for spontaneous conversation and creativity.

10. Time for Physical Proximity.  Face-to-face collaborations help improve performance.  Independent studies conducted by Ben Waber et al., President and CEO of Sociometric Solutions found physical closeness boosts virtual communication.  He reported, “In one case, engineers who shared space were 20% more likely to communicate digitally and emailed four times more frequently when collaborating on a project.  The result was that their projects were finished 32% faster than those from staff working in different places.”

Practicing any of these activities or ones that your company created can engender magical moments in your team that brings them closer together and contributes to greater happiness, productivity, and a feeling of belonging.

Quote of the day: “You can only really succeed and accomplish things through the collective, common purpose.” -Lee Bollinger, Columbia University President

Q: What’s your favorite practice that your team has or would like to see?  Comment and share with us, we would love to hear from you!

How do you build a sense of community within your team?