Healthy Teams, Trust and Belonging

Teams are not just how we get work done in our organizations; they are key to helping people feel part of something bigger. When people are part of a healthy team, they have a sense of belonging. Brain science tells us that humans are, and have always been, social beings which contributes to the desire to belong. A key function of the brain is to keep us safe and being part of a group or a team equates to safety. When we feel safe, we function better in all ways.

In our post on Being Better. Doing More. Growing Team Cohesion, we shared the Worldview Intelligence High-Performance Teams Model, which indicates strong teams need to focus on three arenas: work, learning and relationship. Relationship is important for many reasons including fostering a sense of belonging, boosting self-esteem, confidence and morale. This happens in part because the brain delivers neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that make us feel good when we feel safe, accepted and included.

Teams where trust is low, worldviews clash and relationships are challenged will have the opposite effect. The brain will emit neurochemicals like adrenalin that put us on edge and make us feel bad, further deteriorating trust and relationship.

Human brains are very sensitive to rejection: even something as small and unimportant as being excluded from a virtual game can activate the pain network in the brain. We very quickly sense even subtle rejection. The brain processes physical and social pain using the same network. Social rejection is that real to the brain.

Where the brain perceives there to be a threat to our survival and a need that must be dealt with, there is pain to make us pay attention and to act. That need might be emotional or physical. Social exclusion can be just as detrimental to our welfare as physical harm. Interestingly, neuroscience research demonstrates that feeling excluded reduces a person’s IQ and interferes with their ability to think analytically and logically. Not healthy for the person, the work, the team or the organization.

Even being arbitrarily put into a group, and given an identity associated with the group, can quickly lead to a bond between team members and has a powerful effect on thoughts, behaviour and outcomes. A team understanding that it has an identity and a collective worldview will experience each other differently.

In our post, Healthy Teams Require Strong Leadership and Trust, we wrote about the leader the team reports to and shared leadership within the team. We offered a few key things leaders can do to support the health, well-being and productivity of their teams. Here is another one. Invite and allow the team to have a sense of identity along with shared goals. The team will become an “in-group” for its members, developing its collective or team worldview and creating a sense of belonging, which is a powerful motivator to our brains. Create an environment where the team can reflect on how inclusive it is, whether individual members feel valued and supported and where the team is willing to look at its blind spots while growing together.

You can learn more about the variety of Worldview Intelligence resources to support teams, by checking out this post on resources to grow team cohesion. We’d also love to hear from you what your team challenges are and strategies that have worked well for you and your team.