How leaders can boost connectedness to navigate uncertainty

As humans we are wired to connect with other human beings - neurologically and hormonally - so you’d think building connectedness would be easy and natural. Our latest research, however, shows it often isn’t.

With unprecedented uncertainty and new ways of working (such as hybrid) we are even more likely to feel disconnected and isolated. We need to learn new ways to connect, run meetings, foster belonging, innovate, and pull together with a shared sense of purpose.

Over the past three months, we have been examining the science of connectedness and sharing great conversations with Learning Professionals, Managers, and Leaders.

The good news is with a little thought and attention, you can boost connectedness, team belonging, engagement and performance. Here are our three top insights and practical tips: 

Insight #1: The antidote to uncertainty is not certainty, it’s about providing sufficient stability and agility

Not knowing is tough, and prolonged not knowing can be painful, especially for leaders. The trick is to acknowledge the uncertainty and step into it, rather than avoid it - prioritising providing enough stability whilst also being open and agile. 
It helps to think of navigating uncertainty like pitching a tent on a cliff top. During the storm  it’s loud, the sides are flapping wildly, the wind and rain is all you can think about. Your top priority is to secure enough tent pegs until the time is right to reposition your tent, or maybe build a more secure shelter. 

As leaders, we also need enough ‘tent pegs down’ – like providing a reassuring rhythm of communication, consistent standards of behaviour and accountability, ensuring outcomes are clear and engaging. At the same time, we need to pay attention to the conditions – internally and externally – and respond in timely and meaningful ways. Problem solving and re-planning purposefully.     

Insight #2: Face-to-face doesn’t guarantee better connectedness, we need to build it in 

We are all tired of badly run online sessions, but long, boring face-to-face meetings aren’t any better! However you are coming together, you can design a session that builds connectedness – to a shared purpose and to each other. Create ‘moments that matter’.  

Make sure the purpose of the call is front and centre - clearly stated, engaging, and outcome focused. Avoid vague and bland titles such as 'weekly team meeting' call it what you want like 'Behind the headlines call' - then use the call for people to get curious and engage with business updates and each other’s work.

Ensure everyone speaks (or interacts meaningfully) within the first 10 minutes. Nancy Klein's great work 'Time to Think' shows we only really join a meeting once we have spoken. An easy way to do this is through a round of intros including a topic relevant question like "share a new connection you made this week".

With a little bit of thought meetings can become more fun and more connecting. 

Insight #3: To build human connectedness we have to connect as humans

Most managers and leaders have gathered a bunch of skills and tools along the way – such as change management, strategic planning, or complex problem solving. Building connectedness, however, is about being inherently human - less about new tools and techniques and more about re-learning what is natural and fundamental.

We are all a wonderful blend of lived experiences, values, skills, beliefs, strengths, fears and senses. Enjoy getting to know your team and colleagues as individuals. Get curious about them as people, learn from their experiences and perspectives, discover what is really going on. Practice being a ‘not-knower’ as Amy Edmondson describes it. Embrace not having to know everything and get curious – it can be really liberating! 

Provide opportunities for people to belong, feel safe with people like them, and be more authentic. Some organisations support ‘affinity networks’ or ‘communities’ where groups can safely come together around shared identities or interests. Feeling we belong is a core human need (rooted in survival) and it also boosts experimentation, creativity, learning, and performance.  

We all know deep down how to be human and the power of building connectedness. Sometimes we need a gentle nudge, or a reminder, to tune in – it really does matter. 

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