We are because we belong (a key to motivated workplaces?)

All leaders have a common objective in their job description: to keep their teams motivated (and thereby productive). While the methods of achieving that can be varied, management science can trace and empirically identify some successful techniques. A well known but difficult philosophy to implement is to make the workplace more meaningful. If people find their work meaningful, they are likely to be more passionate and productive.

photo credit: ongoingsupport.org.uk

I will try to argue in favour of an often forgotten theory. Whether it is meaning from the outcome of the work (e.g. money) or meaning from a realization of doing something useful (e.g. doctors) or meaning from the ritual of doing something (which can apply to any work) - a common factor to meaningful workplaces is a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging can invoke emotions similar to a sense of community, friendship and even family. While it may seem indirect, it does make Monday mornings less of a drag, and it helps teams go through tough phases with minimal friction. 

Usually, a lot of focus is put on "building team spirit" through increasing interaction (e.g. outbound exercises). These usual management tactics aim to create happy and confident teams just like stock photos like this (with a quick fix formula):

While these forced interactions work to an extent, they do distance from a lot of people. On the other hand letting people be, and not forcing them to interact more than they want to, helps a lot of people to relax and "feel at home." A leader need not feel ashamed of building a team where people are comfortable enough to not feel the need to talk when they don't want to. If people are relaxed, they can be more creative in their problem-solving. After all, it is always easier to walk an extra mile with people you like than people you are forced to respect. 

Bottom line: Productive teams can be built in far more subtle ways than what management books and leadership programs lead us to believe. 

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