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How To Move Teams From Isolated To All In

Earlier this year brought a new book that provides workplace leaders an urgently needed methodology for helping companies to reduce worker loneliness, and it delivers a blueprint for building strong, high-performing workplace teams.

The book is, Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated To All In, by Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen. 

“72% of workers suffer from loneliness. And, what was once a simmering problem shifted to a crisis when COVID-19 and the sudden transition to remove work isolated workers from each other as never before,” report the authors. 

“Loneliness is the absence of connection,” explain the authors. “Loneliness is not defined by the lack of people, because someone can be lonely even while surrounded by others. We require more than the presence of others. We require the presence of others to dream, strategize, and work toward commons goals.” 

Furthermore, “workplace loneliness is defined by the distress caused by the perceived inadequacy of quality connection to teammates, leaders and the organization itself.” Case in point and perhaps surprising to some, Jenkins and Van Cohen explain that team members who work remotely but feel connected to the work and their team can experience less loneliness than a team member who works alongside colleagues in an office but lacks a strong connection.” 

Using the findings from the authors’ survey of over 2,000 workers worldwide across 50 global organizations, and sourcing from over a decade of helping companies to reduce loneliness, the authors show readers how to: 

  • Identify lonely or burned-out employees
  • Create environments of belonging and inclusion
  • Create and cultivate connections across teams (in person or remote)
  • Create psychological safety for employees
  • Create connected, driven, and high-performing teams using the 4-step Less Loneliness Framework™. 

Revealing, insightful, and packed with a good balance of science, statistics, stories, and actionable strategies, the book, Connectable, is an incredibly timely must-read for leaders. 

Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen

The authors share these insights with us: 

Question: When did you decide to write your book and how did the pandemic influence your book? 

Jenkins & Van Cohen: In early 2019, we discovered research that highlighted that 73% of Gen Z workers reported sometimes or always feeling alone. Surprised and saddened by that number, we began exploring what was causing this loneliness. As we began our pre-pandemic research, it became clear that it wasn’t just Gen Z who were experiencing loneliness, but everyone was. 

Considering there weren’t any resources to help organizations lessen worker loneliness, we decided to create it. Loneliness isn’t shameful, it’s a signal. A signal we belong together. And we believed the best place to tackle the loneliness epidemic was at the place we convene the most, work. And leaders were best positioned to cultivate more belonging among their teams. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we began sharing our loneliness research with clients and were astonished by how large the appetite was for this topic. The pandemic had finally pulled back the curtain on the concealed topic of loneliness. Two years, one book, two frameworks, an app, and a team connection assessment later we are thrilled to see how accessible this topic has become for organizations big and small all over the world. 

While loneliness was growing before the pandemic, our research showed that feelings of loneliness and isolation escalated during the pandemic. 

Question: With so many workforces working from home what can leaders do to lessen worker loneliness? 

Jenkins & Van Cohen: Here are three of the many strategies that we share in our book: 

#1. Lead with context, not control.

Mistrust is a big component of loneliness, therefore building trust is important in making a team less lonely and more connected. One way to build trust is to use context. Control is the opposite of trust. Little trust is present among a team where a leader controls every employee’s action and decision. Context on the other hand is providing the team with the necessary information so that they can act and decide on their own. Context builds trust. Trust builds connection. 

Lead with context and not control. High performance people will do better work if they understand the context (the why). If you don’t trust your team to take the right actions and make the right decisions after giving the appropriate context, you likely have a hiring problem. 

#2. Establish psychological safety using proportional conversations.

Teams where a manager spoke 80% of the time (or more) were less successful than teams who practiced equal turn-taking during discussions, or proportional conversation. Teams where every member has equal opportunity to speak and be heard are the most successful. A psychological safe team is a connected team where everyone feels comfortable to speak up, be seen, and heard. 

Ensure every team member feels that they have an equal chance to speak and be heard. Be mindful of talking too much yourself and of team members who speak too much or too little. Encourage every team member to participate. For the introverts on your team, following up after a meeting to get their thoughts is a good practice. 

#3. Promote work-life balance.

Employees are less lonely among employers that promote good work-life balance and when they can “leave work at work.” Work-life balance should be pursued and consistently reevaluated by any organization. Too much work can leave people feeling isolated from those in their personal lives. Too much work can leave people feeling isolated from those in their personal lives. 

Support volunteering, encourage vacations, offer childcare, or extend parental leave are all examples of how organizations can help team members strike better work-life balance. 

Question: How has the use of Zoom and similar platforms in the workplace increased or decreased worker loneliness? 

Jenkins & Van Cohen: It’s important to remember that loneliness is defined by the absence of connection, not people. A solo remote worker who is connected to their leader or work, can experience less loneliness than a non-remote worker who works alongside people in a crowded office. 

Thank goodness we had such robust technology, like Zoom, to connect with each other when we were forced to disconnect. 

Cultivating connections via these technology platforms can occur. It often takes more intentionality than in-person but still very possible. 

It’s also important to note that communication isn’t connecting. Remote workers use various tech tools to communicate with their colleagues all day, but they aren’t necessarily connecting. So, leaders should ask themselves: “Am I connecting or just communicating?” 

Question: As a leader uses your 4-step framework how quickly should she/he start to realize lessening loneliness and a boost in belonging within their workplace? 

Jenkins & Van Cohen: Loneliness can be easily and quickly reduced, when you know what to do. Research proves that simple pro-social behaviors reduce loneliness in as little as a 40-seconds. Having meaningful 1on1 conversations, befriending one person at work, or spending five minutes to share something personal before or after a virtual meeting, all help people feel seen. 

However, loneliness is a subjective feeling and can be difficult to track. That’s why we created the first tool to effectively assess the strength of relationships among a team. It’s called the Team Connection Assessment™ and it has been statistically validated to measure the levels of isolation and belonging that exists among a team. 

This tool provides leaders with a way to measure and track the progress they are making towards a more connected, healthier and higher-performing team. Leaders can take the 15-minute assessment or deliver it to their team.

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.

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