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Building Belonging

Over the years I’ve gotten a consistent stream of requests from organizations across the nation for support with their teams getting along, trusting one another, and communicating effectively. These opportunities for team building are often deprioritized when there are so many other pressing objectives and tasks that must be accomplished. What goes unnoticed is that neglecting to create intentional time and space for humans to experience that sense of belonging may obstruct or delay those important priorities, and decrease the quality of the final product or service.

I’ve seen amazing breakthroughs occur when I’ve facilitated these community building sessions whether they are two hours or two days long. To sustain this magic, opportunities for belonging must be embedded as an intentional part of the structure of how organizations operate on a regular basis. No matter how pressing the deadline, or how big the project or client may be, I recommend setting aside time, if even five minutes, for people to connect on a human level before diving into the work of the day.

Here are some strategies to support you as you build community in your families, organizations, businesses, and friend groups.

Recognize the Root. One of my favorite quotes from a training that I used to facilitate for youth development professionals is, “Behavior is the language of needs.” The idea here is that those colleagues, students, or family members aren’t doing those things that irritate us just to make our lives difficult. There is some unmet or underlying need that they are trying to satisfy. To identify what this might be, I have participants in my sessions start with some self-awareness. They identify a problem or challenge that they have, then I facilitate a root cause analysis to have them dig deep beyond the surface to discover the real source of the issue. Once we’ve checked ourselves, we can use this same method to help us recognize what might be at the root of the behaviors of others that we have trouble understanding.

Start by writing the challenge that you want to analyze at the top of a sheet of paper. From that, draw two branches, labeling each with the answer to the question, “Why?” For example, if my challenge at the top is money management, the question is, “Why do I have challenges with money management?” One branch will have the answer, “Because I’m not used to making or having this much money.” The other branch answer might be, “Because I was never taught how to manage money.” From there you continue building out two branches with answers to those new challenges until you get to the bottom of the paper. But don’t let the paper limit you. Keep adding paper if needed and continue going until you get to the very root. This may be something like, “When we were little, we never had money. It would cause my parents to fight, and they ultimately got a divorce. So, I try not to give money too much attention or energy because it has always caused big and painful problems in my family.”

Once the true root has been recognized, from there you can set goals, or seek the help and support that you need to learn and grow.

Values Alignment Check. As businesses and organizations engage in strategic planning, one of the main desired outcomes is to identify and define their core values. I like to take this idea two steps further. I believe that individuals should identify their personal core values. I’ve also found it helpful for members within a team to look at everyone’s personal core values side by side to stimulate a conversation. The objective of this exchange is to make connections around where their values are in or out of alignment with their peers. This will in turn shed light on why we work or get along so well with some, and why it feels like we are constantly at odds with others. It’s not that anyone’s values are good, bad, right, or wrong, it’s just that they might be in direct opposition with what we believe.

For example, if I value ease, and you value hard work, I may come off as lazy to you, and from my point of view you may appear to be doing too much. Once we have this valuable information about one another we can use it to create plans for how we work together. It can inform the roles we take on based on our strengths. This will ultimately lead to an overall increase in understanding and empathy for the people we are spending the most time with.

Restorative Problem-Solving. In my study of Restorative Practices, my biggest takeaway was an activity called a Restorative Problem-Solving Fishbowl. This engaging experience provides a very intentional structure with interdependent roles, specific tasks, and a tight timeframe with a focus on supporting one another with solving problems in community. It leverages the experience, expertise, and creativity of everyone in the room and promotes equity of voice. Basically, everyone gets to participate and share in a way where everyone is heard, and no one is over-talked or checked out. Each person leaves with a clear intention and plan for how to address and ultimately solve the challenge that they were facing.

When we try to do everything in a full group, especially if the group is large, we only hear the loudest and most confident voices, and we never hear from those who may have the most valuable information and insight to share. Using smaller breakout groups, and cooperative learning structures like the restorative problem-solving fishbowl enhance the learning, engagement, and experience of emotional and psychological safety for everyone involved.

Creating a sense of belonging in groups goes far beyond facilitating icebreakers. There are multiple layers of intentionality that must be present consistently for teams, groups, and families to thrive. This week I challenge you to create or increase the opportunities that humans in your sphere of influence need to connect more deeply and build community together.

Manifestation Affirmations

I am recognizing the root of my challenges and giving others the same grace and understanding.

I am living my values and learning the values of others in my community to consider alignment and enhance connection.

I am facilitating and engaging in inclusive and collaborative structures to cultivate authentic connection and community.

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