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The Virtues of Government Service – Number 6: Connectedness

The Emergence of Connectedness

There’s a lot of talk about “connectedness” these days. Most of the observations and advice is oriented towards polar extremes; first, self-connectedness, and, second, higher-connectedness. Given the vastness of those topics and my 1000-word target for this blog, I’ll concentrate on the middle ground – team connectedness.

The recent Washington Post Magazine’s cover article about “Top Work Places” led with this quote from an employee at a D.C. area company:

“I feel comfortable being who I am with my team, which I believe leads to producing the best work.”

This quote reflects the important relationship between self-connectedness and team connectedness. Achieving better organizational results today is dependent upon connectedness.

What is Connectedness?

By definition, (Dictionary.com), connectedness means “united”.  Being connected is the idea of being “joined” together, integrated and complete. For an individual, this refers to the integrity and the wholeness of the person. And, while inter-connectedness (knowing and trusting yourself) is important, as humans, we innately desire acceptance, support, and recognition from others – (i.e. recognition from connections other than self). This benefit is often realized with high-performing teams.

3 Levels of Connectedness

Some might argue that there are more, but for this blog, I’ll discuss three “levels” of connectedness.

  1. Self-Connectedness – being cognizant of and in-tune with yourself and your surroundings.  This might be, for example, appreciation of the sky or a tree if you’re outside. Being there, in the moment to see the “aliveness of everything”. Appreciating the now. Connecting your surroundings to yourself. Listening to your inner voice.
  2. Team Connectedness – General Stanley McChrystal talks about the illusion of connectedness. He says, “Connectivity doesn’t guarantee that you have the connections that matter.” Sure, the world is connected as never before with awesome enabling technology. But, that alone doesn’t guarantee the type of relationships necessary for ordinary teams to become high-performing teams. McChrystal elaborates: “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.”

Seth Godin, the well-known author and speaker, says this about connected teams (aka “tribes”).  “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.”  Christine Comaford, the author of “Smart Tribes” provides the following advice: “Create a team that acts as a team, one in which the members support one another and work together to achieve the results you need.”

Basketball great Michael Jordan understood this. His related quote sums it up very nicely.

 Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

What’s the “connect point” between this quote and connectedness? Jordan’s coach, Phil Jackson, says that the practical application of connectedness within teams is knowing the habits of your teammates – how they felt and reacted to any challenge. “This led to situations where, when a player was underperforming, the natural reaction – to scream and yell at him – was changed to an approach that was “how can we help him?”  Thus, connectedness led to cohesiveness and cohesiveness (with no small amount of talent) led to championships.

  1. Universal (or Higher) Connectedness – Can the flap of a butterfly’s wings cause a tsunami? The “Butterfly Effect”, the term coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado (the exact time of formation, the exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.  This makes the point that our actions today have future consequences. We’re all part of a greater ecosystem. Connectedness helps you see how those dots connect. Thus, you’re able to envision more than what meets the eye. At its finest, connectedness means understanding that everything in the universe is connected.

Connected Teams Perform Better

Research indicates that a socially connected team helps organizations achieve a competitive edge. At some point in our lives, most of us have been part of a winning Team.  It can be a fantastic experience. Witness the Washington Capitals who captured the Stanley Cup and the entire city celebrated.  When you experience the high of being on an Award-winning Team at work, you’ll know the sheer joy that’s only possible when the achievement is shared with your Teammates.

Connectedness Soothes Pain and Brings Joy

The lonely among us are not the only ones who might feel isolated in a culture where the internet, mobile technology, and social media can take the place of daily face-to-face, real human interactions. Studies report greater job satisfaction when employees have higher levels of collaboration and collegiality with their peers. Employees who “feel they belong” don’t leave at the same rates and students are less likely to drop out of school. Working with others enhances creativity, improves reflection, increases respect for others and promotes accomplishment. Feeling comfortable to share and speak with your colleagues helps us feel more valued and connected to our workplace. The concomitant benefits help mental well-being and contribute to the improvement of the team dynamic. This, in turn, helps our ability to overcome inhibitions in working through problems, experimenting with solutions and realizing improved results.

Final Words on Connectedness

Rachel Naomi Remen, an author and teacher of alternative medicine says, “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each is our attention.  A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”

And, finally, the comfort that connectedness can bring in times of loss is immeasurable. You are not alone. People care.  And no one cares like the people on your team. Your tribe. It takes a little awareness and effort, but the rewards – in good times and bad – of connectedness are manifest and many. Being with another, being a true teammate creates the conditions where connectedness occurs and moments of joy are experienced by all involved. Go beyond connectivity. Get connected!

 Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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