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The moments that bind us.

chemistry model of atoms bonded together

There is a lot of talk about folk having lost a connection and belonging over the pandemic, to their teammates, to their wider working community, and to the organisation of which they are a part.

I hear this within Christ Church and beyond. There are a number of elements in this – perhaps less visible connection to the purpose of the University’s work when not physically experiencing it, maybe a loss of belonging and concerns over inclusion within the team, and personal feelings of loneliness and isolation.

We should remember though that not everyone feels the same. I have spoken to people who feel more part of a team than ever, whose working relationships and performance have flourished, who have found new ways of working that enable them to connect and belong more openly and authentically than before, and who express a pride in being part of Christ Church. But there are teams that have fractured and fragmented, folk who are now going through the motions and have lost a sense of why they joined and what the university means to them anymore.

I think we will return to many of the elements described above over future blogs, but my focus for today is the impact of social bonds and how these may have been disrupted over the last two years.

The strength of our relationships have in the past tended to rely on proximity. The people around us whom we conversed with, collaborated with, shared coffee with, perhaps even became friends with. I wonder if we saw that as a nice extra, to get along with the people you worked with, but that didn’t fundamentally impact our ability to do our job? That “social” meant non-work, rather than a fundamental factor of our working relationships as fellow humans in a team?

The last couple of years have shown us that proximity isn’t everything, but that human connection is invaluable. In my experience, where social bonds were already strong, teams got through the difficult times together. Those teams with weak or fractious bonds found it harder.

Sometimes the strength of social bonds is down to personalities and environmental factors. However, like many things, the more intentional focus you give the development of relationships the greater the chance of positive impact. The ability to develop strong and positive working relationships is a key element of Emotional Intelligence, and a key factor in increased resilience too. If we have strong social bonds we care about each other, and so we are more likely to support each other, work easily together, reach out even when remote, step in and help out in tough times. Building strongly connected, emotionally intelligent and resilient teams will have a positive impact on motivation, performance, collaboration and outcomes.

As a leader therefore I would contend you have much to gain and little to lose by giving this some focus. Without easy physical proximity to do much of the work for you, you will need to influence and take action. You don’t need everyone to be bffs (I can hear the Gen Z’s muttering from here), but you do need colleagues to have enough awareness of each other’s working style, skills and strengths that they understand how to work well together and feel psychologically safe enough to bring their whole and best self to work.

And please don’t think this is a time-consuming or difficult chore either, full of raft-building days or uncomfortable conversations. As with every aspect of leadership it largely comes down to active communication and to role-modelling.

  • Do you reach out to everyone to chat and check-in regularly?
  • Do you create space in your team meetings for relationships as well as tasks?
  • Do you ensure transparency of activity?
  • Do you let your team know what’s going on in your world?
  • Do you use the various communication tools at our fingertips to keep connections alive even while apart (a simple Teams group chat will do)?
  • Do you meet up with colleagues on campus?

We will explore this more in our Leadership Circle this month, alongside the provocation:

“I’m here to work, being interested in what people did at the weekend is not part of my leadership role”.

Is there an element of truth in that for you, or do you vehemently disagree? How does your point of view show up in your day-to-day leadership? Come along and let’s talk!

Juliet Flynn, People, Culture and Inclusion Team

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