Being alone can be meditative and refreshing. A solitary walk outside in this newly warm weather can clear your head and help put a tough day in perspective. Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. Being lonely is an awful feeling.
On this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory (“The Fortification Implementation”), Sheldon asks Amy, “Do you think there comes a point in life when it stops feeling bad to be left out of things?” Her answer? “Probably not. It’s an evolutionary advantage to be included in group activities.” She’s right! The need to belong is primal.
People need to belong. People need to have a sense of connection…deep connection…in order to be fulfilled.
Gallup defines this need as having a “best friend at work”. Ideally, people will find colleagues that share their personal interests, passions, and attitudes. I was lucky enough to have a strong social network as a teacher and an administrator. I worked with people who were also friends. For whatever reason though, that does not always happen for everyone.
How can teams create a climate that fosters a sense of belonging?
Getting better at our work is a powerful way to bond as a team. Teaching can be a lonely profession. Having opportunities to investigate and to try out new strategies or to watch each other teach can build a team.
It’s important to have fun at work. Build in time throughout the day to play. Use a grade level, team, or department meeting to facilitate activities that allow people to get to know each other on a personal level. Ask someone to join you for lunch. The staff lounge is a lonely place when you don’t have a group of people to join. Strike up a game of hallway mini golf before school one day. Pull together a 3 person team and challenge some students to a game of Hoop-It-Up.
Make a big deal out of the moments of success in people’s lives. When someone gets engaged, has a baby, hosts a graduation party for a child, celebrate! Our lives outside of work are important.
When you work with people for long enough, difficult times are sure to happen. They may get sick, lose a parent, have a child suffer an illness. In times of grief or sadness, being there for the people on your team matters. Show up!
A friend reminded me that a sense of belonging is deeper than simply having social events and doing fun things together as a staff. That matters! But there is a deeper and more meaningful connection that people seek. People want to help set the vision of the work…especially when the work is as important as it is in education. People want to belong to the decision-making body. They need to feel connected to the bigger purpose of the work. As a leader, how are you seeking every voice when making decisions and setting the vision?
We do our best when we belong to a positive team. It is a primal need that not only feeds our collective souls, but truly does bring out the best in our performance. This week, do one thing to help someone else belong.