One of the hardest things about pulling a functional team together is getting the disparate pieces to think of themselves as a whole - to think of all of you as "we". This is more than soft and mushy sentiment, however - there's real science involved.
One of the smartest people in this area is Judith Glaser, author of "Creating WE" and "The DNA of Leadership"and president of the CreatingWeInstitute. While my inner cynic sometimes rolls his eyes at the "we-ness" of it all, she's right on. These are some recent thoughts she shared with me:
Q. In a nutshell, what are the neurological factors of creating a "WE" culture?
Human beings were designed to be social. Our need for contact is greater than our need for safety. A culture is often defined as 'how we do things around here.' WE-cultures honor the needs we all have to be included, appreciated, challenged, and engaged in what is vital and important to the organization's success. When leader do this, the organization 'resonates with an energy of engagement and possibility' that drives people to perform better than they ever expected.
What is most exciting is that we now know, from neuro-scientific research taking place around the world is that leaders who honor the WE-centric approach, intuitively and consciously trigger the TRUST networks which are primarily located in the prefrontal cortex or 'executive brain' – releasing higher levels of collaboration, trust, integrity and good judgment. Leaders who don't honor the principles of the WE-centric leader often trigger the fear networks located in the lower brain. The end result is a lower performing organization.
WE-centric leaders set the tone for higher levels of trust, honesty, and engagement. This triggers oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone, and which stimulates higher levels of natural collaboration. Additionally, I-centric leaders trigger more cortisol, which is the fear hormone. People who feel judged, not included operate out of fear. All leaders today need to understand what it means to be WE-centric, and when they do they release incredible potential in their organizations.
Q. How does communicating primarily through technology help or hurt that effort?
We are learning that technology, used in the right ways and frequently enough, can actually facilitate collaboration and enhance it. Depending on the type of technology and how it's programmed to engage the audience, people can be learning more, and in more fascinating and innovative ways. In the early days of virtual meetings, there was a fear that you can't see the person therefore you don't really know how they think or feel. We are now learning that if we set the rules of engagement for each type of tool, we can bust through these myths and can enhance engagement and innovation virtually.
Q. Can you give us some specific tips for creating real connections remotely?
Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Let people know in advance who will be attending the virtual meetings. People get hung up if they do't know who is on line, and it also is hard to write down all the names during intros... so make it easy to connect to the attendees before the meeting starts. If you can include photos, do that also so people become real even if they only have a voice to hear.
Putting Your Voice in the Circle: If possible have each person introduce themselves... and give them an example of what you want them to include. Putting your voice i the circle is an old Indian Ritual that move people from feeling like outsiders, to feeling like insiders (included). Inclusion is one of the highest needs of human beings. Once people put their voice in, it's easier to voice an opinion during the meeting.
Check Ins: It's important to take time to check in with the people attending to see if there are any questions on reflections during the meeting that are occurring to people during the meeting. IF you do this, leave time in the agenda for this. If people raise critical questions or issues you don't have time for, you can capture it and say things like "This will be a great topic for our next meeting" - or however you want to schedule this in. This assures you are not in too much of a presentation mode during the call. You can also use this technique at the end of the call... to surface interesting reflections and insights about what was covered...
Engage, Engage, Engage: We have tools we give executives - one is the ARC of Engagement... it has protect on the left and partner on the right.... we often use this in meetings to ask people where they are 'standing' during the conversation... I can send more on this if you are interested. It's in my Creating WE book and I'd love people to be interested enough to want to learn more about it!