What’s leadership got to with community spirit and sense of togetherness...

Working together with a motivated and powerful team is the heart’s desire of each manager. But let’s be honest: There are lot of teams that are not working that well and that are also far below the expectations of their team leader in terms of performance. The reasons for this are as diverse as they are complex.

However, scientists have long since agreed on one point: people, a.k.a. you and I, regardless on what level or in which company we are working, want to be part of something bigger. In other words: they feel the longing for belonging. We as managers or team members often have seen that there is that one colleague who is only moderately dedicated in his or her work. However, it is the very same colleague who is volunteering in a sports club or in a music society or for the community beyond all measure, and therefore enjoys a high reputation within this community.

In my view, this is the main anchor for anyone’s personal motivation to either be willing to show commitment or to deliberately decide not to do so. This applies to all areas of life – even to the working environment. Do I, as a member of staff, see a purpose in what I do or how I do it? It is not by chance that I mention the aspect of “how I do something or in what environment”. What I mean with that is: Am I working in a community which, in itself, provides me with a sense of purpose?

In the article “Room for Purpose”, Prof. Wolfgang Jenewein and his colleagues of the Sankt Gallen University distinguish between three different intrinsic sources for purpose:

  1. The focus on contribution is probably the major source of motivation for many, and it can be understood in the traditional sense of generating a benefit for society and the common good. I am fully aware that not every company can exhibit such a purpose, but that’s okay. Because in this context, it is perfectly fitting for many employees that benefits are generated for customers or colleagues (I am referring to internal service departments here). The manager has to ensure that the benefit generated by the employee is visible for him and that he receives immediate feedback from the beneficiary. 
  2. Sense of community: Now, I come back to the example from the personal environment where it is the rule that people experience community spirit. If the manager succeeds in allowing the creation of high-quality relations within her team, then it is highly likely that the team develops a spirit of community, which in turn serves as a source for individual motivation. It is of help in this context to develop, and also live, common values and to ensure that everybody knows the answer to the question “What do we stand for?”
  3. The focus on dedication is something I referred to in one of my previous newsletters. Daniel Pink calls this aspect “Mastery”. This refers to the fact that everybody wants to pursue the things he or she loves doing, and wants to get better in them. If the manager or the company manages to employ people based on their interests and strengths within the company and to improve their strengths, then these people are certainly those who are willing to go the famous extra mile. Because they are going that extra mile also for themselves, not only for their company!

In the above-mentioned article by Prof. Wolfgang Jenewein, these aspects are summarized in the following sentence: “It is all about creating togetherness that focuses on a sense of purpose.” Which is a brilliant sentence in my view – however a very complex one when it comes to implementation...

I would like to summarize this in my own words, a bit longer, though with more practical applicability:

Without purpose or a clear common goal, there will be no powerful team. A feeling of togetherness can be created, for example, when the team or the department together answers the following questions:

  • What do we stand for? – What contribution do we make to the society? What is the larger goal we have in mind? 
  • Why are we here? – Where do we help? Whom do we help? Who benefits from us?
  • How do we do it? – What capabilities do we use? How do we act? What are the underlying values for our actions?
  • What do we do? – What are our products or services?

If the answers to these questions are not evident for all employees, it is high time to hold one or more workshops to deal with these questions and to find the answers to these questions within the team step by step. Needless to say that this work cannot be outsourced to any random agency that comes up with fancy words on behalf of the team. This effort of finding a purpose involves a great deal of hands-on work and thinking exercises, which have to be performed by the team itself, including its managers!

Promoting a sense of community – wherever possible. You will be instantly thinking of team events of any kind which every department I know holds regularly. Something that is as good a deposit on the “sense of community” account is, in my view, an independently working and self-organized team. Because this requires constant coordination and communication which almost automatically leads to a feeling of togetherness. 

For the manager, this in turn means that she should no longer predefine matters or do the thinking alone, but should delegate responsibilities, and should provide support but only when the team is willing to accept help. The inevitable consequence is that the manager has to allow the team to make mistakes, even if she would have been able to prevent these mistakes. The catchphrase is: “Support, not rescue”! (please also see the link to the article below)

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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