There’s an emerging theme I’m hearing about comparing companies to communities. I heard it at the Great Place to Work conference and again at the Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference and Expo.
If companies are communities, then it’s the obligation of businesses to take care of their community and to support their “members” (i.e., employees). During the ATD conference, I had the chance to hear Michael Lee Stallard talk about his new book, Connection Culture. I thought it really tied into this idea of organizations being more like communities so I asked if he would share this thoughts.
Michael, I certainly don’t want you to give away the entire premise of the book but can you briefly tell readers what defines a “connection culture”?
[Michael] A connection culture is a bond based on shared identity, empathy and understanding that moves self-centered individuals toward group-centered membership. It is in contrast to ‘cultures of control’ and ‘cultures of indifference.’
In cultures of control, people with power, control, status and influence rule over others. This culture creates an environment where most people fear to make mistakes and take risks. Cultures of control have low employee engagement.
Cultures of indifference exist when people are so busy and overwhelmed they don’t invest time to build supportive relationships that are essential to employee engagement. This is, in essence, the culture that drifts organically toward relationship apathy.
A connection culture makes people feel like part of the team. Other cultures can make people feel unsupported, left out or lonely, which diminishes productivity, wellness and well-being. Your readers can take the Culture Quiz at ConnectionCulture.com to see what type of culture they work in.
How does a connection culture compare to high-performing teams? Are they the same thing?
[Michael] All high performing teams that last have connection cultures. The neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman calls connection a ‘superpower’ because it makes people more productive, healthier and happier. When people feel connected to their teammates, they perform at the top of their game, they give their best efforts, they align their behavior with the leader’s goals so that everyone is pulling in the same direction and they are proactive when it comes to contributing to innovation and overcoming obstacles. These attributes I described add up to provide a powerful source of competitive advantage.
In contrast, disconnection sabotages team performance. Culture affects biology. If people don’t feel connected, their bodies are more likely to be in a state of stress response so that blood glucose and oxygen are allocated to the fight or flight systems (i.e., heart, lungs and big muscles) while the brain, digestive, immune and reproductive systems are shortchanged. This makes people vulnerable to anxiety, depression and addiction.
We are hardwired to connect. Absent connection, we dysfunction, and so do our teams and organizations.
Connection cultures do not appear to be exclusive to large organizations. Would you share with readers your connection culture examples using the rock group U2?
[Michael] U2 is a band that people booed and laughed at in its early days yet it went on to become one of the greatest bands in history with more Grammy awards that any other band and the highest revenue producing tour ever. Their story is all about connection.
Bono, the band’s lead singer, lyricist and leader among equals communicates an inspiring vision and lives it, values people and gives them a voice. They have had each other’s backs through the sickness and deaths of loved ones, death threats, one band member’s problems with addiction, and divorce. They encourage each other. They share profits equally among the band members and their manager. They give each other feedback but they are kind and considerate about how they communicate it. Each band member has a voice in decisions made. If someone feels disconnected, they work to reconnect. These are just a few attributes of U2 that work to connect them.
(Editor’s Note: You can read U2’s story by downloading the free sample chapter from Connection Culture.)
You mention that the case for connection is backed by science. What does the evidence show?
[Michael] Connection Culture includes a chapter on the science of connection that lays out the research. The chapter has three parts.
Part One: I review research that has shown connection leads to greater personal productivity, superior health and more happiness and research that shows disconnection (i.e., feeling unsupported, left out or lonely) leads to dysfunction and a greater likelihood of premature death.
Part Two: I present research evidence that connection is essential in order for organizations to achieve sustainable superior performance.
Part Three: The science of connection provides an assessment of the current state of connection. It shows that America and other market democracies have become more disconnected so that people come into the workplace with a connection deficit. Some leaders say it’s not my problem. But it is their problem because the lack of connection in their organization’s culture is contributing to underperformance and will eventually lead to managerial failure.
The lack of connection is a major reason why the average Fortune 500 Company has a life span of less than 50 years. We’ve developed too many workplace cultures that are more like machines than communities suitable for human beings.
Speaking of organizational life span, what are the bottom-line results of having a connection culture?
[Michael] Connection contributes to thriving and life. Disconnection leads to dysfunction and death. This is true when it comes to individuals and groups of all kinds including teams and organizations. When my colleagues and I began researching organizational health more than a decade ago, we had no idea it would lead to this conclusion. We followed the clues from a wide variety of fields and they led us to connection.
[Tweet “Take the Culture Quiz: find out about your corporate culture”]
My thanks to Michael for sharing his expertise. If you want to connect with him, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. You can find his book, Connection Culture, on Amazon and in the ATD Store.
Before companies spend focused energy and resources on building a brand to attract and retain talent, the first question they need to ask is “What kind of culture do we want for our community?” The answer drives everything.
Oh, and P.S. Michael and I had a moment to chat about burgers and wine during the ATD conference. His vote for best burger is Tarry Market in Port Chester, New York and the fave bottle of wine under $10 is Les Halos De Jupiter’s Cotes Du Rhone. So next time you’re in New York City, take a short train ride to Greenwich, Connecticut and see what you think of his recommendations.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby