Three ways to develop a sense of belonging in the workplace

belonging at work
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We all need to feel that we ‘belong’ somewhere – fostering this feeling in your employees can make all the difference when it comes to building an effective team.

Within any organisation, the need to feel like part of a team and to develop a sense of belonging is a vital to ensuring a comfortable working environment, and to a certain extent, increasing productivity.  

Whether you’re a new starter though, or simply joining a new team within a company that you’ve worked in for years, trying to create a feeling of camaraderie with colleagues can be daunting.

That being said, it’s far from an impossible task, and there are a number of different actions that can be taken to help establish a genuine sense of belonging.  

1. Establishing trust

Trust is critical for the success of our relationships with colleagues. If we don’t trust one of our team members, we will often waste time monitoring that person, duplicating their work and communicating less effectively.

We know that trust can form much more quickly with people we are similar to and this is one of the reasons why we can feel 'wary' of people who may bring different approaches or perspectives to an established team.

Becoming conscious of this 'unconscious' reaction (having 'relationship intelligence') is an important step to increasing the sense of belonging and inclusion in a team.  

We also know that workplace trust often boils down to three categories: cognitive, affective and transactional. Cognitive trust is the first stage of building a strong relationship, and centres around convincing our colleagues that we are capable of working with them to complete a task.  

Affective trust differs in that it is a component in establishing deeper, longer lasting relationships with others. Also known as ‘emotional trust’, it requires a greater mutual understanding than we tend to gain from our knowledge of each other’s abilities.

To achieve affective trust, we have to spend time getting to know our new colleagues, understanding their background, interests and skills, as well as demonstrating respect, warmth and attentiveness.

By developing a rapport with our team, we can have a hugely positive impact on developing excellent relationships.

This is often most easily achieved between people who are in some way alike – where they are quickly able to identify common ground in their first conversation.

It's important that existing team members go the extra mile to find that point of connection with new team joiners who they perceive as being in some way different to them.    

The final form of trust that we rely on in the workplace is transactional. This process describes the way a group interacts and adapts to the needs of its individual members, to ensure overall achievement.  

It’s crucial to establish the varying forms of trust at the start any working relationship, to prove to our colleagues that we are capable of operating within the team. It also helps to form a mutual respect, regardless of circumstance or individual backgrounds.  

2. Developing a rapport

A sense of belonging relies heavily on building a strong rapport with our colleagues. For some people though, the idea of developing a rapport with new people can be incredibly daunting.

With just three simple steps, however, we are able to establish mutual connections with our colleagues and gain the best outcomes from any interactions we may have.

The first step to building rapport is finding common ground. This isn’t about being someone you’re not, though. It’s about expressing a real interest when engaging with someone new, in order to find something genuine that you both have in common.  

By developing self-awareness and identifying our desired impact, we can work on managing the impact we have on new colleagues.  

The second step is to be mindful of our body language. We might not be aware of it, but our body language can provide a wealth of information about how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking and how comfortable we are.

Simple considerations - our posture, maintaining eye contact, avoiding 'distraction habits' such as checking our phones - all contribute to the impact we have on others.  

Finally, as the language we use only accounts for a small proportion of our communication, it’s important to match the verbal style of the person we’re conversing with, as it can contribute towards influencing the development of overall rapport.

‘Pacing’ is the term we use to describe matching the volume, words, phrases and – in some cases – images used by the person we’re talking to, all of which contribute to the overall notion of verbal communication.  

So, by developing a rapport with our team, we can have a hugely positive impact on developing excellent relationships, as well as relaxing and feeling comfortable with colleagues.  

3. Managing our impact

Whenever we meet someone new, we will leave them with an impression of us that is based on our behaviour. Specifically, the first three minutes that we spend with a new person are when their initial impressions of us are formed, and they can be difficult to overcome.

By developing self-awareness and identifying our desired impact, we can work on managing the impact we have on new colleagues.  

To create a positive impact, it’s critical that we are flexible and able to listen to the individual vigilantly, as well as paying particular attention to the situation and trying to see it from different perspectives.

Being aware of other people’s behaviour will also help us to understand how they’re feeling, so we can adapt accordingly to make our own impact as positive as possible.  

By building and maintaining trust, developing a rapport and managing the impact that we have on those around us, we can increase our overall approachability, work towards fostering a sense of belonging and improve the employee experience.

Utilising these three concepts will allow us to lay the foundations of strong working relationships, and as a result, feel the crucial sense of belonging within our workplaces.

Interested in this topic? Read Why we have hugely underestimated people’s need for social connection at work.

About Stuart Duff

Stuart Duff

Stuart Duff is a Business Psychologist and Partner with Pearn Kandola. His primary focus is on helping people to take on new business challenges through widening selfunderstanding and focusing on clear goals.

Stuart has spent over twenty years advising organisations on performance and leadership development, and in the process has become extremely familiar with the nature of the challenges that senior managers and executives encounter.

His work with top teams and high potential employees from many of the FTSE 500 companies has also given him a highly commercial and grounded view of what it takes to be a successful leader in different business environments. Consequently Stuart can bring a very practical and pragmatic approach to coaching others, while, as a chartered psychologist, he brings a genuine edge to understanding and enhancing performance at work, drawing on a range of coaching tools and techniques such as personality profiling, motivational interviewing and leadership modelling.

Stuart has worked with managers and executives on areas such as leadership development, maintaining resilience, developing confidence and personal impact, developing strategic vision and building effective relationships.

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