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As companies have grown larger and more companies offer more options in global markets, people have responded by demanding transparency from the organizations they advocate and work for. At the same time, remote working has exploded, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of this has not changed one thing – people's natural psychological need for a sense of belonging. They want to know that they have a tribe and a place to look for clues on what to do. And when employees move out of the office to work digitally with anyone from anywhere, loyalty to certain employers is no longer as strong as it used to be. People are looking for a sense of community and family, not from a single company but from their professional network as a whole.
In this environment, your new role is to find ways to make your team feel of the tribe, no matter where they work, so that they stay with you. If you do this well, you can keep morale and productivity high while ensuring a good bond that protects your bottom line.
Related: 3 Trends That Will Define Remote Working In 2021
How do people get a sense of tribal belonging?
The feeling of tribal affiliation usually comes from four main sources:
A common purpose
A unique contribution to this end
Proud of what they do and what they leave behind as a legacy
Gratitude for what others in the tribe have offered
If people feel like they are on your team, you need to address each of the areas above.
1. Sense of purpose
Everyone understands "purpose" when we talk about a big cause. But what if your organization isn't there to eradicate disease, fight poverty, or cleanse the oceans? Purpose can be found in the smallest of things. That's why we do what we do every day. In a B2B context, you may only achieve your customers' business goals. It could be to solve a specific problem in the industry. Whatever the purpose, it makes the team look up and see the horizon.
In our daily routines and in the remote working environment, it's easy to forget that the purpose may come from smaller ways of serving. Whatever the purpose of your team, take every opportunity to expose and reaffirm this vision. Better yet, let them do it and own it. The conversation changes completely when the team determines its own purpose. Ownership also usually means that teams keep their purpose at the forefront of the discussions they are having.
We have often seen this effect in our own strategy meetings or when conducting an investigation session with a client to make sure everyone is focused on what we need to achieve. In both cases, the people shape the vision themselves. The commitment and commitment of team members with different backgrounds and opinions are brought to the highest point. It's a tribe in formation.
The purpose does not have to be perennial. It can, and perhaps should, be constantly renewed.
2. Unique contribution
When the purpose says "why," then a tribe also wants to feel that the way they accomplish that purpose is in some way unique. It is the mark of the tribe and what sets them apart from other tribes. There is an aspect of authorship here that fulfills people's desire to feel special.
This sense of authorship is directly related to what you offer the market, but it's not just that. How the company works internally could also bring a lot of "uniqueness" with it – how executives treat employees, what the management philosophies are, how they get involved in communication, how autonomous teams are, how the company deals with diversity, justice and inclusion and how it sees its role in society as a whole can contribute to this. Regardless of what combination of factors you might have, the more you hear people pointing out how "strange" the company is in a positive way, or the more you hear that "this could only have happened here," the more likely it is if it is that there is a strong feel for the log brewing.
Related Topics: Pros And Cons Of Remote Working: Are Your Employees Adjusting?
Everyone wants to be proud of their achievements and the marks they leave on the world. Knowing that they are contributing to something uniquely valuable, as described above, is half of it. But they also need to feel that their individual contribution was important. People will generally have a sense of pride that is based on their own self-esteem and enables them to show that pride goes a long way.
Showing pride isn't necessarily boastful or self-promoting. You can be proud when someone else speaks of your team's accomplishments. For example, an in-house experiment consisted of giving each team space to tell their "powerful stories" in short videos published at CI&T University. These were available to every employee and contained customer references. The narrative always started with intended business goals and ended with results, and the story in between was always very rich. These videos have helped encourage learning in different parts of the organization while also creating a sense of pride. In the same way, communicating your story or allowing others to communicate theirs can build pride in your company's employees.
When offering rewards for people's accomplishments, provide consistent updates to show what real impact their work is having, directly or indirectly. Praising the interactions associated with achieving the bottom line will ensure that everyone understands the collective effort involved, has a full sense of their role, and knows they can work together instead of doing it alone.
People can be grateful for what is beyond expectation, outside the norm, or just out of the blue. It is the "we have your back" feeling that is proven in times of need. In the last 12 months in particular, there have been an extraordinary number of opportunities to test whether we can rely on others. Gratitude is also multidirectional: you can be grateful for something your leader has done, your colleagues, or people on your team.
In my experience, gratitude doesn't come from great breakthrough heroism. It comes from small, unexpected, and utterly sincere actions, most often from personal relationships. You cannot forge gratitude. The best thing you can do is create a really collaborative environment where people really care about each other and feel safe to offer their personal help to others.
Personal bonds and gratitude are mutually reinforcing. When someone expresses gratitude, it increases the feeling of pride in the other person and creates unforgettable moments, even if they have never met in person.
From personal experience, the times that I remember as meaningful and that I am most proud of are those when someone came up to me and thanked me for something I said or did that was somehow important to them. They are never planned and I never assume that I will have such an impact. In fact, I wouldn't have known that I would have done so much if these people hadn't spontaneously come back to tell me. It is this random expression of how I made a difference that makes the interaction so memorable. All of this can only happen in an environment where it is safe to be vulnerable and to lend a hand.
Behavioral research has shown time and again that helping others benefit both the helper and the recipient. When team members do this for one another, they will truly feel part of the tribe.
Related: How To Practice Gratitude As A Business Skill
If your employees are your employees, prove it to them
In today's environment, people are more likely to look for their sense of belonging outside of your company and feel less loyal. But you can make them feel like the tribe they are looking for if you proactively focus on purpose, unique contribution, pride, and gratitude. Consistently cover these four fundamentals to keep your company stable and competitive.