How to connect in a connectionless environment….

Surely, you’ve noticed the dwindling art of the conversation in your daily interactions? When is the last time you were in a line for coffee, waiting for an Uber, or standing in line waiting to board a plane without noticing that the majority of the heads in the line are looking down, keying some apparatus like a maniac, and either shaking their heads in frustration at what is appearing on the screen or chuckling quietly at a shared video.

Perhaps you noticed in a recent meeting that participants walked into the room with their mobile technology tethered to them, or observed during a recent video call that individuals were madly typing away while others were presenting and you are pretty sure they weren’t taking detailed minutes.

We don’t know how to ‘be’ anymore. Just simply ‘be.’ Yes, being. Breathing in the air, going for a walk just because, or being on vacation without a mobile device stowed away in your beach bag even though you promised your family that you wouldn’t be distracted by work. The truth is…we are all addicted. We are addicted to the fast food style level of communication that we now all want to ingest minute by minute throughout the day. We cannot get enough of news alerts, texts, or phone calls that feed the adrenaline junky in us in the same way that we used to be thrill seekers looking for our next mountain to scale, road race to complete, or traveling internationally for the first time.

So as a leader of a group of individuals who most likely are made up of Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, baby boomers, and other labeled generations, how do you reconnect with your team in what is most likely a highly virtualized environment? Where a rumor about the organization can spread faster than you can count to three?

Three key areas of focus that will begin the process of reconnecting you with your team:

Be present
If you conduct meetings, ask all of your participants to put away, turn off, or leave behind their mobile devices. If you have virtual team members invest in video conferencing and use technology to create a sense of place for your team where your laptop replaces the dated concept of a face to face meeting in a conference room.

Here is the key to this approach: You must also put away, turn off, or leave behind your mobile device. Who among us has not spent hours, maybe days, getting ready for a presentation to your boss and you notice that your boss is checking emails during your presentation? It’s the worst right? So, don’t do it. Be committed to the time that you ask of your team to engage with you and in return do the same for them.

Be connected
Do you know who you work with? By that I don’t mean their function at your organization, I mean do you KNOW who you work with? Does your business analyst have children? Does your technical writer have pets? Has someone on your team recently lost a loved one? Is someone that works two doors down struggling with a sick family member?

You get the gist. There is nothing worse than working for someone who has absolutely no connection to you outside of your professional responsibilities. Be the leader that takes the time to ask questions about your team’s family. Be the leader that follows up with someone who you know has suffered a loss. I am not sure there is any statistical model that will measure how much that means to someone, but I do know that it is just good human practices to care about your team and be connected to them as a leader of people.

Be real 
Many of us have heard over the years the theme around being ‘authentic’ as a leader. Sometimes I am not sure what that really means, but what I do know is that I connect best with people who are just real. They share their struggles, they ask your advice, they talk about their life outside of work, and they are the type of people you would barbecue with if you lived on the same street. There is enough pressure and doomsday language pervading our society that we all need to get real with each other and connect on a deeper level. Candid conversations should not lead to a human resources incident report.  Trying something new should not be labeled as ‘going rogue.’

Maybe if we all realize that we are in this together, both professionally and personally, we will generate the change we are all hoping is just around the corner. Be the inspiration your team needs. Show them the way to an environment of positivity, challenge-based initiatives, and just plain old cheerleading. The time is now for us all to rededicate ourselves to the art of connecting and understanding one another – our future depends upon it.

Posted by Mary Ludden, Faculty

Note: Mary is the Faculty Director for the Leadership and Project Management domain at CPS. Before joining our faculty, she was the Chief Operating Officer of a large insurance company subsidiary, leading a national network of virtual teams.

Comments welcome! How do you connect with team members in our digital era?

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