The magically motivating power of togetherness

24 Aug 2017

The first part of a famous Chinese proverb says: Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

If we want to create an ‘action of togetherness’, we need to ensure that the words we are using are about unity, about working towards a shared goal, about connection – we need to tell our teams we are in this ‘together’, rather than just assume they know.

Humans are social beings, inherently wired for connectedness. When we feel more connected we also feel more motivated and that results in increased performance and improved engagement.

A team in name only?

As Heidi Grant Halvorson writes in her article Managers can motivate employees with one word: “The feeling of working together has been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation – that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement..”

Our organisations are set up in teams with shared goals, but we don’t always feel connected either to the goal, or to each other. Grant Halvorson says: “While we may have team goals and team meetings and be judged according to our team performance, very few of us actually do our work in teams.”

Our work is most often completed separately, at our computers. As Grant Halvorson notes, the weird thing about teams is: “They are the greatest (potential) source of connection and belonging in the workplace, and yet teamwork is some of the loneliest work that you’ll ever do.”

What does a team ‘feel’ like?

So, how do we start to solve this conundrum? We need to focus on creating a stronger sense of being together – a ‘feeling of working as a team’ and it begins with simply saying the word ‘together’, according to research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University. In a series of experiments Carr and Walton found that the notion of ‘working together’ improved intrinsic motivation even when people worked on tasks individually.

Carr noted: “It is [also] striking that it does not take enormous effort and change to create this feeling of togetherness. Subtle cues that signal people are part of a team or larger effort ignited motivation and effort.”

Say it, see it, be it

Grant Halvorson agrees: “The word ‘together’ is a powerful social cue to the brain. In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you towards the same goal.”

It seems like such a small, inconsequential action, but the research demonstrates it has significant impact.

When was the last time you said to your team, explicitly, ‘We’re in this together’? Not only will it help your team to persist with working towards your shared goal, it will also feel more enjoyable – both for you and for your team.

Give it a go today – I’d love to hear how you get on.