Four Ways to Cultivate Belonging

Four Ways to Cultivate Belonging

Dan Spira

Dan Spira

Managing Director, North America and Global Partner

In the 1940’s, my grandparents hid their true identities in order to survive. They lived in a time and place where they did not belong – it was not safe for them or their children to openly identify with their ethnicity. For a while, they changed their names in order to blend into the majority. As refugees and later, immigrants, they retained a wary-yet-optimistic sensibility of belonging-yet-not-belonging within a wider society that was gradually becoming more open, inclusive, diverse… and flourishing.

These words – diversity, inclusion, belonging – have become crucially important for organizations to survive and flourish, particularly in the new realities of 2021.

Providing people with feeling of belonging inside their organization is, arguably, one of the key goals of diversity and inclusion programs, as well as virtual team building efforts. A feeling of belonging is also a necessary ingredient for developing a cohesive, high performing team.

What happens when there isn’t a sense of belonging within an organization – or a sense of belonging for some, but not all?

Neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists have long known that the experience of exclusion and alienation – social pain – is profoundly distressing. As humans, we will go to great lengths to avoid social pain, even if it means suppressing aspects of ourselves, including our identities, our ideas, and our willingness to innovate.

If a sense of belonging is a desired feeling, then how does cultivating that feeling translate into action and behavior?

How can we create workplace cultures where there are few barriers to belonging for newcomers who bring a different set of experiences, who may even look and sound different from the established in-group?  

Reverse Brainstorming Belonging

At Arcadia we often use the reverse brainstorming method to develop a wider range of practical ideas for achieving a given end goal. This method starts with asking a question about the opposite of the goal, e.g. “How do we undermine and prevent a sense of team belonging?” Then, taking all the negative (and sometimes, sobering) responses to that question, we reverse the outputs to yield new insights.

In the clinical research of Dr. John Gottman, the prevalence of four negative behaviors – he called these the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – predicted relationship instability and collapse in married couples. These are: 1) criticism of a partner’s personality, 2) defensiveness in the face of criticism, 3) contempt, from a position of superiority, and 4) stonewalling, or emotional withdrawal from interactions. These behaviors were shown to create self-reinforcing negative loops of behavior between both parties, ultimately eroding trust and cohesion.

Borrowing from Gottman’s research in our reverse brainstorming exercise and applying it to the notion of workplace belonging, here are four ways to cultivate a greater sense of belonging within a diverse, geographically distributed team:

  1. Instead of criticism, help others cultivate their strengths. Whether in an informal coaching capacity or as part of a formal development program, help others develop a feeling of belonging through their contribution to the team, in a way that honors their unique attributes, experiences and perspectives.
  2. Instead of defensiveness, practice growth mindset. Whether you are a team leader or an individual contributor, demonstrate a willingness to step out of your own comfort zone and continuously improve by soliciting feedback from others. This will generate positive behavioral loops across your team and a feeling of being “in it together.”
  3. Instead of contempt, be empathic and vulnerable. Accept people where they are in their personal and professional journeys, and let others see that you too are far from perfect. Cultivating an environment of psychological safety is a prerequisite for a feeling of belonging. 4. Instead of stonewalling, create ‘’hearth building” opportunities where you can get to more personally know those who are most different – or distant – from you. Structured activities and guided interactions are significantly helpful in making this less awkward and more powerful, particularly in a virtual working environment.

Take a moment to consider: Which of the above four ideas can you do more often in your organization?

What else can you do more of, or less of, to cultivate greater inclusion and belonging within your team?

Belonging , Together.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been challenging – even seemingly apocalyptic at times – but as with any challenge there are real opportunities now here to break from the past and build more connected, cohesive, and thriving remote teams.

As one of the lucky descendants of my grandparents, living as I do in a time and place where I am given privileges, resources, and freedoms that they could scarcely imagine, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to create spaces for greater diversity, inclusion and belonging, where people can bring their whole selves to work.

Now more than ever, it is possible for any organization, however diverse and dispersed around the globe, to create a feeling of togetherness as expressed by the motto, E pluribus unum – out of many, one. 

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Virtual is Here to Stay

Virtual is Here to Stay

Adam Clough

Adam Clough

Senior Consultant

If you think corporate training, events, workshops and conferences will go back to the way they were pre-COVID, you’re wrong.

Virtual / Live Online Learning has emerged as a safe and viable option for personal development, albeit that it was forced on us as the pandemic turned personal and professional worlds upside down.

Before COVID-19 people some wanted more virtual learning experiences, but many of us in Learning and Development were too comfortable with the traditional approach to consider such a massive shift.

Over the last year, we’ve all been forced to adjust, create and innovate virtual strategies for our learning programmes, and we are discovering that there are many advantages to virtual learning that we didn’t realise:

  • Reduced cost
  • More diverse classes
  • Equity in learning
  • Higher efficiency
  • Increased participation
  • Equal or higher satisfaction scores
  • More personal feedback

These are just a few of the things we are seeing in this new age of learning & development, but there are many more.

We have also discovered that there are some things that transfer to virtual more easily than others. Virtual has shown itself to be great for explaining concepts in meaningful and understandable ways; using stories and examples to illustrate points. But virtual still cant quite capture the excitement of co-generated ideas and intimate discovery of innovative ideas.

Will we return to physical classrooms and conference at some point? Yes, but, virtual offerings and solutions will continue to grow and be seen as an equal option, rather than a lesser choice.

We will also see more blended learning than we have previously. Smaller groups in different locations, but in the same virtual class at the same time is just one example. Blended learning will bring together the best of both worlds – virtual safety & face-to-face engagement, which will help learners stay motivated and engaged.

As a firm we have now virtually facilitated over 1600 sessions in the last 10 months. Created editable digital versions of handouts, workbooks, new pre and post programme assessments, surveys and knowledge tests, and are now finalising the creation of a learning app. It is unlikely we would have achieved this in such a short period of time if we were not in the current climate.

L&D is transforming in this virtual first environment, and fast, and I am excited to see what’s next. Lets hope we don’t need another pandemic to find out!

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