team connection

Team Connection Matters More Than Ever — Here’s How To Foster It

You may not view team connection as a KPI, but it is. “If the last couple of years has taught us anything, it’s that human relationships are more important than ever – and they’re absolutely critical at work,” says Jen Mintz, leadership expert and coach at Executive Presence Inc

Nurturing a sense of connectedness and belonging is critical to creating a healthy work environment for all. When employees feel connected, they perform better, they’re less likely to leave their jobs, and it’s been proven that highly engaged teams show greater profitability.” 

Team connection matters even more in a remote/hybrid workplace, according to Nick Turner, founder and CEO of Antenna, an organization focused on helping leaders improve how they engage with remote and hybrid teams. 

“What makes it more important now is any individual’s connection to the overall company culture is lessened in a remote environment. The ratio of time they spend with their team members and leader versus the rest of the company increases significantly. If there are fewer connections, then those connections need to be stronger,” he says. 

The benefits of team connection

Want to know why deeply connected teams perform better? It’s because of the combination of effective collaboration and employee retention, says Turner. 

“The combination of these factors generally leads to a higher-performing team. Team members with you for longer have more experience in your field, their contributions improve over time, and with the team working together on ideas, you generally get that ‘two heads are better than one’ effect,” he says. 

Signs a team is strongly connected 

If you’re wondering how connected your team truly is, pay attention to the way team members interact. The signs of strong connection within a group are subtle, but they’re present. 

“Somewhat counterintuitively, more intense discussions and arguments can be a great sign of a well-connected team. Provided they remain respectful, it shows you there is a comfort between the team members and their leaders to voice their ideas and to provide critiques on someone else’s,” according to Turner. “If your team almost exclusively accepts decisions or the ideas of their colleagues with little discussion, it can be a sign of disengagement.” 

Turner adds that, as a leader, a telltale sign that your team is deeply connected is spontaneous collaboration: “If multiple team members come to you with an idea spontaneously, it’s likely they’ve been working together separately. It’s usually a good indicator of strong team bonds.” 

Tips to foster team connection 

Below are tips to foster a strong sense of connection in your team. As you embrace them, remember that connectedness requires a collection of small, sustained efforts – it’s not something you can achieve through shortcuts.  

1. Strengthen one connection at a time 

Lead by example. Connect more often and intentionally. Aim to strengthen one connection at a time. “Start with just one person: someone you lost contact with, a new colleague, or someone you’d like to develop a relationship with. With a ‘one at a time’ approach, you can allow connection to grow organically,” says Mintz. 

2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable 

“Creating genuine connections requires vulnerability,” she adds. “Building relationships requires openness from everyone involved. Remember that you’re not the only one craving human interaction — social belonging is a fundamental human need.” 

3. Let your team take decisions 

On that note, it may also feel uncomfortable at times, but you’ll want to let team members make more decisions. 

“Next time you have a decision you need to make for your team, don’t make it yourself. Ask your team to make the decision as a group, independently of your influence. They’ll need to meet to discuss this. They’ll feel empowered. They’ll have an open sharing of ideas separate from you and have to work together to come to a final conclusion on what should be done,” says Turner. 

4. Mix old-school and tech tools 

The way you stay in touch also matters. Mintz recommends maintaining a sense of connection by communicating in a variety of ways, from sending handwritten notes and calling and texting to using apps like Zoom and Teams: “The future of work is hybrid, so making sure people have the tools they need to reconnect is essential.” 

5. Nurture informal moments of connection 

“If you are used to leading a face-to-face environment (as I was for over a decade), you may take things for granted that aren’t really happening anymore. The biggest of those are the spontaneous moments that used to happen in the office. Stopping by someone’s desk, going out to lunch, meeting up after work,” adds Turner. “Spontaneity is gone and intentionality is in. You have to work to create those moments for connection.” 

He recommends scheduling time for spontaneous socializing and sticking to it. While those things can feel like the easiest things to reschedule in a busy work environment, dismissing them can be detrimental to your team’s health, he says. 

Mintz even suggests mimicking the vibe of face-to-face conversations while working remotely – share a personal anecdote and ask people about their life instead of jumping straight to business in a work chat, for example. “Nothing replaces the spontaneity and flow of in-person conversations, but it’s not always possible in many work environments. It takes a bit more intentionality, but where you’re able, try to recreate the flow and intimacy of an in-person chat,” she says. 

6. Practice flexibility and empathy 

Flexibility and empathy are essential building blocks of team connection. “It’s important to remember that everyone is dealing with something. Do your best to avoid assumptions and remain open to meeting people exactly where they are,” says Minz.