11 May 2017


Belonging is such a fundamental human need that it impacts on how well we cope with pressure and disappointment, how much we enjoy and value success and how hard we are prepared to work to achieve it. Leaders have an important role in creating an environment where everyone feels that they belong. But how?


In their desire to feel part of the group some people actively exclude others to create an ‘us and them’ scenario. As a leader it’s important to identify and address any such behaviour quickly, as it only takes a few instances of being excluded to undermine someone’s sense of belonging and their wellbeing and performance.


When we feel part of a greater community it bolsters our confidence, because we know that when we or other members are struggling there will be others there to provide support and pick up the slack. Try to engineer situations where team members need to help each other out or work together closely to achieve outcomes; it can help to strengthen a community feeling.


While everyone in your team is unique there will be a common thread running through them – shared passions, dreams, pastimes and conversation topics – aside from simply having the same profession. Focusing on what connects you all as a team and finding ways to build on those connections is important in fostering belonging.


Getting along when you have that common ground is one thing, but relationships that are based on an understanding and acceptance of one another’s differences tend to be even stronger. Encourage your team members to accept and embrace each other’s differences and it will help to ensure that each individual feels welcome for who they are.


Good leaders establish a set of standards – the behaviours and attitudes that you expect from your team members – and it’s important that these apply uniformly with no exceptions. The more inclusive your team charter is, the greater the sense of belonging that your team members will have and the more likely that they will work hard towards the team goals.


A certain amount of self-drive and autonomy is to be applauded, but it can go too far. When people work alone or in small silos it can be a sign that they are trying to create their own sense of belonging. Help such individuals identify more strongly with the team unit by aligning their mission and values with the group’s and emphasising their key role in achieving team success.


To foster belonging your ethos, values and goals need to be more than just words; they need to make an emotional connection with your team members. Think about how you might communicate each message in the most passionate and inspirational way, perhaps by building a story around it or linking it to the heritage of your organisation. Help it to mean something on a deeper level.