Why do we need human connection and how to create more of it in meetings?
1 “Our work environments have to become more human!”
When you read about the future of work or remote work or the way how company culture should change, you have probably stumbled upon this phrase. It feels good to read it right? And I bet, you just nodded while wondering in the back of your mind, what does that actually mean and how can translate that bold statement to your day-to-day work?
“We are hardwired to connect with others", as human beings. But why? Why is our need to connect so crucial for us humans?
“Neuroscience suggests that we are neurologically wired to connect with others; mirror neurons in our brains are stimulated when we're interacting with other people. Literally, when you are talking to someone, pathways in your brain light up to mirror the emotions and behaviors that this other person is conveying”. (Source https://psychcaremd.com/hardwired-for-connection/)
Scientists say, that our need for love and belonging comes as a necessity for humans, right after oxygen, water, and sleep.
And now think back on your last week or month or yesterday. Think about the interactions you had with your team, or your boss, or even with clients and partners. In how many of those interactions did you feel „human connection“ with the person you interacted with? When did you see, hear or feel people around you express what they really feel, what they need or what they are worried about? When did you feel connected?
In most workplaces showing your human side is considered „unprofessional". Mistakes are hidden, emotions are wrapped in diplomatic phrases and human moments of crisis are not to be shared in public ever.
So when we look at the visions of work environments we crave and check in with the status quo, intensified through a remote work scenario for a lot of people, you most probably look at people thirsty and hungry for connection. The cravings are intensified by the Corona situations for all companies, who haven’t built moments of human connections into their daily work routines already. Who relied on the coffee machine, after-work beer, and annual retreats to create a connection but failed to make this as normal as setting goals and review performance.
2 Three ways to create connections as part of meetings
To design for human connection means: to create time, formats, experiences, and processes where we as humans can be seen, heard- and felt like humans. As part of work, not only after work. Here are three simple and applicable ways to engineer moments of human connection in your work week and meetings.
a. For a meeting at the beginning of the week
Do a check-in with everyone in your team.
Ask: “What has been your highlight of the weekend? What are you looking forward to this week? What are you grateful for today?”
b. Meeting at the end of the week.
Do a team check out with these three simple questions: “I like, I wish, I wonder.” The format is described here. http://dschool-old.stanford.edu/wp-content/themes/dschool/method-cards/i-like-i-wish-what-if.pdf
It’s a beautifully simple yet powerful reflection method to review the week, take a moment to think about what you liked e.g. that you won a new client, that you finally managed to hire someone, the weather, your own workflow, etc. and express wishes e.g. things to improve upon, needs, etc. It gives you the chance to hear the experience from every one of your team on another level than just talking about which tasks are still left.
c. Strengthen your appreciation muscle
Gather your team and ask: “What is one thing you appreciate/are proud of yourself? What is one thing you appreciate about your team?” Don't be surprised when people have a hard time answering that question. We are so often focused on what we didn't do that we forget to appreciate the good things.
3 My recommendations on how to facilitate these moments of human connection
Nominate one facilitator who facilitates through such a check-in/check-out/appreciation round. The facilitator can and should participate though, yet keen an eye on the time and the engagement of everyone. Invite and encourage everyone to speak.
Time: Depending on the group size, make sure you cap the time of everyone to speak: e.g. answer the question with one sentence, a word, everyone has 30sec/ 1 min. etc.
Rules: Agree on the rule that you don’t discuss what’s been said. This is probably the most important rule: Just listen to each other, don’t comment, don’t judge, don’t shame, just listen. This is needed to make these check-ins feel safe and trusted.
Comfort level: Respect the fact that people will respond to these questions in different depths. Some feel more comfortable sharing their mind and feelings, others have to develop trust.
Habit: Make this a regular practice, if possible weekly. In my experience, this is one of the most impactful time investments you can make every week for your team and culture.