Rebuilding a Sense of Community

July 29, 2018

In this age of constant distraction and limited face-to-face time, I decided to drop some of what I call “anti-social” media and join real-time groups to help restore a sense of community. I suspect this lost sense of community has contributed to many of us no longer fully engaging with others in real conversations and the opportunity for civil discourse.

Though I was not directly responsible for Facebook’s $120 billion loss in shareholder wealth last week, I did stop using the social media platform as part of my plan to disengage from such distractions and engage in more meaningful activities. (To those of you who followed me on Facebook, I hope you will continue to do so on LinkedIn or Twitter.)

When I witness a group of teenagers hanging out with each other while staring at their cell phones, I can’t help but think that they are missing out on important opportunities for meaningful and deeper connections. How will they establish real intimacy? Where will they learn to demonstrate empathy for others when their feelings and concerns are concealed with and misinterpreted by abbreviated text and emojis?

Perhaps I sound like a curmudgeon, but when an extremely useful tool such as a cellphone becomes a barrier to truly connecting with others, it is no longer a tool but a crutch.

“Our civilization, like every civilization, is a conversation,” writes author Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West. “Therefore the demise of our civilization is only inevitable if the people saying and arguing the right things stop talking.”

And David Brooks of The New York Times has written in a number of columns that “social fragmentation and social isolation are the fundamental problems afflicting America today.”

For me, I’ve chosen to monitor the number of times I check my cellphone and extract myself from meaningless and mindless activities in order to make room for more meaningful ones. In the past year, I joined two different groups and they’ve provided more meaning to my life. Though I didn’t join them with this specific purpose in mind, they have helped me engage in rebuilding a sense of community.

Round Table

The first community I joined is called Round Table and it’s a group of about 50 business people who meet for breakfast every Thursday morning at 7 am in order to support and learn together. Each week a different member or his or her guest presents a topic that would be of interest to the group. This could be about a company, a product or service, or—what has become increasingly popular and beneficial to all—an update on their personal lives along with lessons learned.

Many members have been meeting for more than twenty years and continue doing so because it provides them with something they can get nowhere else in their lives. One long time member refers to it as his “church” because he finds spiritual fulfillment from the regular discipline.

When I first joined Round Table last year, I expected it be primarily for networking and participation would be beneficial to expanding my business. However, I now also see it as a support system that truly feeds my soul in a way that has been missing in my life. It is so much more than social or business interaction; it is sharing and learning in a supportive community.

Better Angels

The second community I joined is an organization called Better Angels. It was formed in 2016 after the presidential election that made it clear “we’re becoming two Americas, each angry with the other, and neither trusting the other’s basic humanity and good intentions.”

Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement that was created to help unify our divided nation. By bringing red and blue Americans together into a working alliance, they are helping to forge new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.

Earlier this month I attended a “Red/Blue Workshop” as an observer where seven conservative-leaning and seven progressive-leaning people participated in moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. It was fascinating and encouraging to watch participants learn to fully listen and respectfully engage in civil discussions with those they oppose politically.

In sum, Better Angels aims to help Americans learn to engage in respectful real-time, face-to-face conversation in order to connect on what unites rather than divides us. This will hopefully serve as a counter measure to what is often the opposite in social media. And Russia will have a tougher time interfering.

I’m currently in the process of becoming a facilitator for Better Angels in order to deepen my engagement and encourage my fellow citizens to participate more fully in civil discourse.

These two groups—Round Table and Better Angels—are helping me to feel more engaged in a way that stretches beyond friendships and family. These groups are rebuilding the sense of community that I feel is missing not only in me, but also in American society. I am finding fellowship and this is rewarding because I believe I am engaging in a way that demands more of me and delivers more to me.

Rebuilding this sense of community may be the antidote we need for our distracted attention and lack of civil discourse.

Emotional Health for High Performing Teams

February 19, 2015

Why is it when we put together a group of highly capable individuals to form a team, this “whole” doesn’t necessarily exceed the sum of its parts?

Obviously, teams won’t always exceed the collective contributions of the individuals, and sometimes these teams can backfire and produce even less.

“It is relatively easy to find talent; it is hard to form teams,” wrote David Brooks in The New York Times. “In hiring I suspect most companies and organizations pay too much attention to the former and too little to the latter.”

Selecting talented individuals without consideration for how they interact with others is a risky proposition, since so much of what we do in organizations is done in collaboration with other people.

“The key to success is not found in the individual members, but in the quality of the space between them,” according to Brooks.

This space between members has to do with emotions, and individuals must be emotionally healthy to work together properly. As I’ve written about in previous posts, one’s emotional intelligence is vital to workplace success.

In fact, Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, found that 67% of all competencies deemed essential for high performance were related to emotional intelligence. Furthermore, one’s emotional intelligence mattered twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ for this high performance.

This emotional intelligence is magnified on teams since the effectiveness of team performance relies so heavily on the interaction between team members.

Effective teams are those with trust, open and effective communication, respect among members, a common goal, and interdependence. These are foundational in fostering healthy conflict, collaboration, cooperation and creativity to find innovative solutions to challenges.

Getting to this solid foundation requires the emotional health of each individual because our ability to self-reflect, self-regulate and empathize with others determines to what degree we are able to work together effectively.

Instead of using familiar and workplace-safe words such as “empowerment” and “team-based” and “motivation,” I think it’s time we accept that our feelings are not something we lock away in our private lives or keep at home during the day. Our emotions—both the positive and negative—are with us everyday and everywhere we go.

Accepting and honoring these emotions does not mean no longer acting professional or giving up all rational thought. Instead, it means embracing the gift these feelings provide us in order to work effectively with others and be more productive.

Fear, anger, frustration and other negative feelings can undermine group dynamics. For teams to function at a high level it is therefore important to shift these and harness optimal emotions such as joy, passion, even excitement to provide energy and enthusiasm.

The most optimal emotions can stimulate innovation and productivity because they enhance the competencies of quickness, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to deal with complexity, according to Jackie Barretta, author of Primal Teams: Harnessing the Power of Emotions to Fuel Extraordinary Performance. These optimal emotions can then transform any team into a high-performance engine where people function with sharper minds, find creative solutions and everyone operates at their peak.

This does not mean faking positive emotions in order to overcome negative ones. You need to remain congruent with your feelings. But it does mean paying attention to those negative feelings that may be hampering your team.

In her book, Barretta provides a “Fear Release Guide” to reduce fear and negativity. Many of these techniques rely on a high level of trust for team members to feel comfortable sharing their emotions with other teammates, and this is key in order to shift to optimal emotions.

When that fear and anxiety are replaced with joy and playfulness, a team finds it easier to dream up elegant solutions to satisfy customers and deliver long-term value. Barretta defines positive emotions as heartfelt emotions that you can actually feel by the way people speak about their job, their team and their company.

Heartfelt emotions can dramatically impact our ability to interrelate with others, and learning how to navigate them in ourselves as well as those around us can greatly influence our success on teams.

Researchers at HeartMath used sensitive magnetometers to find that the electromagnetic field emitted by our hearts actually extends beyond our physical body to those around us. We automatically and unconsciously sense the heart fields of other people. And this provides valuable information for how well or poorly we function as a part of a team.

If your team is not currently functioning at a high level, perhaps it’s time to take an emotional assessment. What is the predominant feeling in the room? Maybe it’s time to shift away from fear, anxiety or frustration in order to improve your team’s effectiveness.