Well, would you….jump off a bridge?  I did.  Let me set the stage a bit for this story.

When our daughters were young, I loved sharing time with them…on their terms. We played with dolls, enjoyed “tickle monster” attacks, played the “dream game” and hung out watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Sure, there were lots of other things I could have been doing on Saturday mornings besides cuddling up on the couch to watch “Rainbow Brite” – but nothing more important to them…and to me.

I can’t say that I was thinking about building connection at the time…but it was happening all the same.  Years later I learned just how important shared experiences like these are to building connection.  And I learned how important connection is to the quality and longevity of relationships.

Now, about that bridge.  Years later my daughters and I were still finding special ways to enjoy our time together.  During a memorable trip to New Zealand, our adventures included leaping off a 30′ cliff into the river pool below, abseiling (repelling) down the face of a 75′ waterfall, tubing through caves in the dark, and jumping (well, bungee jumping) off the Auckland Bridge.

While I thoroughly enjoyed our bungee jumping adventure, I’m not really trying to sell you on this particular adventure.  I do hope to convince you of the value of building connection through shared experiences.

In the workplace, team members who feel connected – who feel cared about, understood, and valued give much more of themselves. I’m not talking about working longer hours. In fact, I’ve spent far more time cautioning people about burning themselves out than I have urging them to work longer or harder. I’m talking about tapping into the full potential of what each individual has to offer. I’m talking about lighting a fire…not under their feet, but within.

One of the best ways to build connection is to engage in activities that are important to the other party. And I do mean “engage.” It’s not enough to just be there. A parent who watches their child play with toys is not making the same connection as the parent who is playing the game with their child. The same is true for leaders. A leader who actively engages with team members is building connection. A leader who simply observes or directs is not.

There are so many ways to build connection with team members.  Here are a few simple ways that are high on my list.

  • Invest a little time with everyone who joins the team.  After meeting everyone on the team through weekly small group sessions, Kris (an amazing human resources leader) and I met each month with everyone who had joined the team since our last gathering.  She was great at getting people to open up in ways that built connection.  Before wrapping up we always asked for initial impressions about our organization and then gathered their ideas about how we could further invest in building and sustaining a thriving culture.  I always looked forward to these sessions and, based on feedback from others, they were a big hit with team members as well.
  • Make time to personally recognize birthdays and anniversaries.  It only takes a few moments to send out birthday and (work) anniversary notes to team members. I lost count of the wonderful notes I received in response to this simple (and important) gesture.
  • Don’t forget team members who work in other locations.  Whenever we held “all hands” meetings we used web conference technology to make team members in all locations a part of the event.  In situations where time zone differences made it difficult to include everyone, we recorded the team meeting and then scheduled time with the remote locations to cover highlights and answer questions.  Investing time (either in person or via web conference) with team members in other locations will help you better understand what is going on there…and will help them to better understand where you are coming from.
  • Find ways to be a part of their world.  Try sitting in on department meetings, make time to actively celebrate team (and individual) successes, personally acknowledge challenges, failures, milestone achievements and peer recognition.
  • Seek first to understand.  I am a long-time fan of Steven Covey’s work.  His, “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” message is one of my favorites.  I have experienced a lot of leader frustration around team members not seeming to understand organizational priorities, strategies, or decisions.  Yet I rarely saw an investment on the leaders’ part to truly understand the team members’ perspectives.  Invest time in truly understanding the challenges, concerns, priorities, and ideas of your team and you will likely have a much easier time getting them to understand what is important to you.

Small investments of time like these on my part have translated into meaningful differences in several different organizations.  I saw engagement scores go up, turnover go down, and productivity levels increase.  Of course, these weren’t the only investments we were making to build a thriving culture… but I do believe they played an important role in our success.

So, no… you don’t need to jump off a bridge. Though it sure is a lot of fun!

I do hope you will find time… that you will invest time in creating shared experiences that build connection. Whether with family, friends,
or team members – this investment on your part is likely to pay the most important dividends of all.