That Sense of Belonging: A Teamwork Necessity

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people.— Brené Brown, American author

That Sense of Belonging: A Teamwork Necessity by Laura StackWe all want to belong, whether it’s as part of a marriage, a family, a social club, a political party, a community, a nation, or some combination of the above. The best workplace teams also provide a sense of belonging. Well-established work processes, mutual respect, a deep sense of familiarity, and a commitment to group decisions and actions can all contribute to greater productivity.

Perhaps most importantly, productive teams develop and live by a series of team norms. These represent the “rules” all team members work under, based on group consensus. They don’t have to be unanimous; but like most group decisions, everyone lives by them for the good of the whole.

The Evolution of Team Norms

Some norms are more-or-less universal among working groups, or within a particular organization. But there may also be norms specific to the team, so as a newcomer, you’ll want to learn them quickly. This is one of the purposes of training—whether it’s Boot Camp in the military, corporate training, or multi-day employee orientation when you start a new job.

But suppose you create or join a brand new team at its inception? At some point, you’ll have to get together and establish your new team’s norms. This can happen on the fly with on-the-job training; the norms may even be unwritten, understood implicitly by all. But I find it more logical to establish a formal set of team norms as soon as possible. Ideally, your leader will sit you all down at a meeting before you get too far; you can suggest it if not. Shoot for these foundations:

  1. Solid communication. Communicate concisely and cleanly, with acknowledgement of each communication. If you can’t fulfill a request, give an estimate for completion. a minimum. Don’t “reply all” if you aren’t adding to conversation with information that does indeed apply to all.
  1. Mutual respect. Establish this from the start. Everyone has a place on the team for a reason and has their own specialized knowledge. No one is more or less important than anyone else on the team. 
  1. Meeting guidelines. Begin and end the meeting on time. Work from an agenda distributed several days before. Establish rules of order. Use a facilitator. Take minutes. Don’t hog the floor. Don’t talk just to hear yourself talk. Avoid side conversations. 
  1. Decision-making. What decisions will the leader make? Which ones need team input? Will we make major decisions by consensus or majority? Will the team give input and the leader makes the final decision? 
  1. Self-review. Meet occasionally to review your collective performance and productivity. Review processes to determine how to save time. Review relevant metrics and indicators. Always seek ways to save time individually and collectively. 
  1. Conflict resolution. Determine ways to directly resolve conflict between individuals, varying according to the level of conflict. Remember: you may require some friction and debate for effective decision-making, so don’t automatically reach for conflict resolution procedures when things get a little heated.
  1. Celebration. Having a small party or presenting awards after a successful task or project helps establish team solidarity. When it’s not excessive, socializing is necessary for bonding and relationship building.

Ties That Bind 

Once you have established your norms, they should apply to everyone in the team. No one should feel the odd person out for any reason. The more inclusive you make your team norms, the better your team will function, and the more likely the workers will devote their energy and discretionary effort to their work. People want to feel a sense of belonging—a reason to be a part of something that really matters, in the company of colleagues who understand and respect them.


© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For nearly 25 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped professionals and leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author of seven books by large publishers. Her newest book, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time, hits bookstores in January. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.