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Connect With Remote Colleagues Through Personal Knowledge

Research shows the benefits of integrating your personal and work life rather than maintaining a strict separation.

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Remember doing “Show and Tell” or presenting to your classmates as the “Student of the Week” when you were in elementary school? As it turns out, our teachers were on to something. Bringing back an updated version of this practice would be more than merely an entertaining way to enliven a meeting at work. It may be just what teams need in year two of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

How well are the members of your team doing at being teammates, especially if you pivoted to working remotely almost a year ago? How has the extended time being physically apart impacted the dynamics? Are people becoming less responsive to one another? Are you seeing any behavior that is hindering another person’s effectiveness? 

There may be direct conversations that need to take place to address specific situations or working relationships. We recommend you also consider an indirect but very beneficial step: be intentional about facilitating connecting in ways that allow colleagues to get to know one another as unique individuals. It will improve the overall level of positive relational connection across the whole team. 

Research supports the benefits of sharing about our lives outside of work. Organizational behavior professor Ashley E. Hardin of Washington University has found that greater personal knowledge leads to a more human perception of a colleague, which results in increased responsiveness and decreased social undermining. That makes sense, doesn’t it? When we see the humanity in others, we’re more likely to treat them with dignity and respect, and to help them, as compared to when we see them as mere means to an end. 

Jane Dutton, professor emerita of business administration and psychology at the University of Michigan, and one of the pioneers in recognizing the power of high quality connections in the workplace, observed“…  it turns out the more you know, the better off you are in terms of connecting potential with another person. There’s this idea that we need to put on our professional masks and we don’t want to blur the boundary between the professional and the personal, but [Hardin’s] research suggests there’s not a lot of downside to letting people know more about you.” 

Two Simple Practices You Can Use in Virtual Meetings

To breathe new life into cooperation and collaboration on your team, take time to connect with people on a personal level and resist the inclination to skip time spent in conversation getting to know the people you are responsible for leading or who are your teammates. The 2nd edition of our book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work features a robust collection of practices you can employ that will boost connection among your team. Below are two you can easily fold into virtual meetings.

1. “Share one good thing”

When Maureen Bisognano was CEO of Institute for Health Improvement (IHI), a not-for-profit independent healthcare organization, she began each Monday morning meeting with the senior executive team by asking the members to take one or two minutes and share one good thing.  Invariably, most of the good things that were top of mind were personal memories of the weekends with family and friends. She shared with Michael that this simple practice helped the leadership team get to know one another better.

2. “Inside Scoop”

Dr. Vivek Murthy, author of Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, served as the 19th Surgeon General of the U.S. from 2014 to 2017. One practice he and his colleagues developed to boost connection was called “Inside Scoop” and it helped them get to know each other on a deeper level without cutting into personal time or requiring a lot of planning, preparation, and resources. As part of the weekly all-hands meeting, one individual would have five minutes to show a few photos related to their life and tell the others about them. Over time, each participant took a turn.

Of the impact, Murthy told an audience of physicians, “In listening, in just five minutes, we got to see whole other dimensions of people we had not understood in working together for a year. People started treating each other differently, stepping out of their lanes and helping each other more. They felt they had been seen. It’s powerful as institutions to create simple opportunities like that to see each other clearly for who they are.” 

As a result of “Inside Scoop,” Murthy observed that people felt more valued when their colleagues learned about them on a more personal level, introverted individuals began speaking up more and taking more responsibility, people seemed less stressed, and they commented that they felt more connected.

If you were to bring this modern-day “Show and Tell” exercise into a regular meeting you have with your group, what photos would you select and, more importantly, what do they represent about you?

Letting Others In

Will people choose to be open about their personal lives with their colleagues? Dutton counsels that you explain that your aim is to “build better connective tissue so that our group will be better and more capable,” adding that when people understand the reasoning, “they let their guard down and participate more fully.”

Personal knowledge can be a powerful connector, especially when people discover points of commonality. What might you do this week to encourage your colleagues to offer a window into their world outside of work? 

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