Neurozone®’s primary aim is to enhance resilience, prevent burnout, and unlock the capacity for high performance - for individuals as well as groups. This begs the question: what are the key things - or better yet, the one key thing - that can achieve all these outcomes? What can enhance them for both one person and their team, simultaneously?
Recently, we set out to uncover this by investigating certain paths to optimization that we call Team Connectors. These are, essentially, psychological senses that connect team members together. They include:
- Identity (value-alignment)
- Belonging (acceptance)
- Trust (reliability)
- Entrustment (holding vulnerability)
- Freedom to voice opinions (psychological safety).
Across data from around 600 people - with a balanced gender distribution and across 18 different industries - we identified which Team Connector most strongly predicts higher resilience, greater job performance, and lower risk for burnout. That Connector is the sense of belonging in your team.
*Team Connectors (predictors) ranked according to the size of their positive effect on Resilience relative to the other Team Connectors (longer bar = larger positive effect).
Belonging is a deeply embedded biological need. Neuroscience tells us that our brains are designed to evaluate our sense of belonging among others to determine how likely we are to remain safe, survive, and do well in life. When we don’t quite feel that we belong in our team, when it feels that our team members do not quite accept us, our brains register that as a threat. As a result, the brain puts us on edge, activating the fear and stress responses. When these responses are more active than they should be, we get set up not to handle other stressful situations well - since we’re already experiencing the physiological and psychological stress of non-belonging. This means our adaptability (our resilience) is lowered, and the risk of our brain-body systems being overwhelmed by stress (the risk for burnout) is heightened. And of course, the energy that goes into dealing with feelings of non-belonging is energy that would otherwise be used to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. Hence, a low sense of belonging reduces our job performance, too.
*Team Connectors (predictors) ranked according to the size of their positive effect on Job Performance relative to the other Team Connector (longer bar = larger effect).
So, we all stand to gain a huge amount - in productivity, adaptability, and well-being - by optimizing our senses of belonging in our teams. How exactly do we go about that? High levels of belonging mean that we feel like “insiders”; that we feel safe bringing our unique, full, authentic selves to work; and that our individuality is appreciated. On the one hand, enhancing our sense of belonging may mean that we get better at understanding our team members’ working styles and the demands of their individual roles - and how all of the styles and roles in the team all contribute, ultimately, toward reaching the same group goals. We may need to get better acquainted with each other’s individual working realities so that we can ensure that there is alignment - and a space to belong - in the collective working reality of the team.
*Team Connectors (predictors) ranked according to the size of their positive effect on reducing Burnout relative to the other Team Connectors (longer bar = larger positive effect).
On the other hand, optimizing our sense of belonging may mean that we have to flex our empathy skills by tapping more deeply into who our team members are - personally. It can be easy to compartmentalize our full humanity in the workplace by keeping the extent of our engagement with each other “professional”. That might mean we come to understand, on some level, that the “personal” side is not wanted. Relatedly, the different sides of our social identities (gendered, racial, cultural, etc.) may need more open consideration. A team culture that under-appreciates diversity can send the message that some of our differences are undesirable. Belonging is, after all, about feelings of inclusion.
Whatever it may be, we have to get serious about inspecting the dynamics in our teams that, intentionally or not, create a sense of exclusion for certain members. From there, we’ll know what is needed to enhance the degree of belonging in our team. Our resilience, performance, and resistance to burnout - as individuals and groups - all depend on it.