When you meet with your team for the first time, mine for gold. Look for what’s good about them, what strengths they bring, how they might complement each other’s strengths. When you ask questions to find out about their skills, talents, wisdom and experience, you are more likely to connect.
If you encounter someone who wants to give you a ‘friendly warning’ about one of your team members, unless this person is your leader or someone from HR, be very wary. The way you interact with each team member is going to be different from anyone else’s experience because everyone is unique. Keep an open mind and form your own opinion.
Say Hello & Cheerio
This one seems so obvious, but it needs reinforcing as I’ve lost count of the number of participants in training programs over the years who have lamented to me that their leader ‘doesn’t even say hello to me in the morning’. Working in the office? Greet your team on your way in, or as they arrive. It might be a smile and a nod, it might be a cheery good morning, it could be a quick ‘Hi, how are you today?’ or a subtle wave to someone who’s on the phone. Acknowledging your people is key. As a leader you set the tone for the team.
Working remotely? Give them a call. Add a quick good morning to your group chat. Or if you have a five-minute virtual check-in meeting at the beginning of the day, you can greet people there. Or you can say good morning on your first email or other form of digital contact for the day.
Similarly, at the end of the day don’t just disappear. Let your team know when you’re heading home. Wishing your team a pleasant evening on your way out is yet another way to build connection.
Find common ground
What do you have in common? Were you both born in Melbourne? Did you both emigrate from Sri Lanka? Do you both listen to the same podcasts? Do you both have a passion for cycling? Do you both binge watch the same show on Netflix? If you ask enough questions, you will inevitably find something you have in common.
A fabulous coach I know always asks her new coachees, ‘What brings you joy?’ What an amazing array of insights that question can bring, and even if you don’t share their joy of tap dancing or chainsaw sculpture or sashimi, you already know more about that person than you did before. Make it your mission to find some common ground – it can be a fun challenge for your whole team.
Remember their stories
Do you remember what your team members tell you? It could be as simple as the names of the special people in their lives, it could be as complex as a challenge they faced in childhood. When you’re listening, people tell you their stories. When you remember their stories, you demonstrate that you care enough to retain those details because knowing them and connecting with them is important to you. When you loop back to your previous conversation to ‘check in’ and see how things are going, you will create deeper conversations for connection into the future.
Say ‘I’m sorry’
This one is a biggie! When you make a mistake, own it. Immediately. Admitting when you’re wrong and taking responsibility for your mistakes when you make them is fundamental to trust and connection. And then get straight on to apologising and finding a solution to remedy the situation. Most importantly, learn from it. When you continually make the same mistake and keep apologising but don’t change your behaviour, your apology sounds empty and you will erode your credibility and trust.
Ask for help
You may be a little surprised to see this one in the list. Yet asking for help is an incredibly powerful way to build connection. Step back for a moment and think about how you feel when someone asks you for help. Likely you may feel valued, trusted, approachable, knowledgeable or perhaps respected. When you flip this around by asking your team members for help you are conveying these messages to them. Powerful.
‘Please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘you’re welcome’ and ‘How are you?’ Super simple. Super important. Manners cost you precisely nothing to use, they are permanently available to you, but when you don’t use them the damage to connection is immeasurable. If you don’t say please or thank you, you are being rude. No-one connects with someone who’s rude. Get this one wrong at your peril.
Now that you’ve discovered or refreshed these seven ways to connect with your team, reflect on what you’re doing well and where you can improve and then choose one new behaviour to implement. Which one feels just right for you and your team?