It can be hard to feel connected and on the same page with employees and team members, especially when working remotely. By finding ways to relate to the people on your team, you can improve communications, build better connections and create an even stronger organization.
Ask the Big Questions
Last year, I started searching for interns to help manage a temporary project and also to hopefully find longer-term support. I knew, however, that even if the person ultimately did not end up being employed by my company, he or she still needed to walk away with something, and I wanted to make sure that, whatever it was, we achieved that goal by the end of the internship. So I asked them, “What do you want from this internship? What skills and experiences do you hope to acquire?”
Asking those questions gave me the information I needed to structure their internships in a way that ensured we both left the relationship happy, but then I realized there was an even bigger and more important question: “Why do you want to intern here?”
One intern included a detailed cover letter with her application, a story really, that told me what attracted her to my organization and why she thought she was the perfect fit for the internship. I agreed with her, simply because I then knew her story. I knew more about her from that one introduction letter than I did about clients and colleagues I had known for years, and it gave us a wonderful foundation for the relationship.
Learn Their Stories
When I think of the people on my team now, I’m most interested in those who are interesting, and those who are the most interesting are those who have shared their stories.
- What are their dreams and aspirations? As college students, in the interns’ cases, they’re generally starry-eyed dreamers right now, with high hopes for how their lives and careers will turn out, not at all jaded by circumstances and setbacks; they’re not afraid to share those big audacious goals with me. By knowing where they’re going, I can help them get there and, if our goals align, add strength to our shared mission and momentum to that of the company.
- What do they like, and what are their interests? As trivial as it might seem, knowing that one of my interns loves Dr. Seuss, another poetry, and another literature gives me unique insight into who they are as people and a way to appreciate who they are as individuals and, better still, combine our unique talents, gifts, and interests into a company with culture and character.
- What’s their past? By learning a little about where they’ve been and their history, I can learn if they are from a big family, for instance, and perhaps get an idea if they could possibly take on strong leadership roles within the company or if they’ll be good at working as a team.
Relating to Your Team
There are many ways to learn more about the members of your team, but the most important thing is to make the initial effort, using any method that best fits your company and its culture.
- Life lists. One of the tools I’ve been using to get to know my team members is “life lists” (aka “bucket lists,” 100-things-to-do-before-you-die sort of thing). I was originally doing this for myself and as a connecting point for supporters of a project I’m working on, but when one of the interns heard about it, she said enthusiastically, “I’ll do it!,” and within a day had completed hers, too. It’s interesting to see how many things we have in common.
- Stories. “Who are you?,” the caterpillar asked Alice. Get your team to share their stories by writing their own “About” pages for your website, and if you want to encourage greater connectedness, ask them to post them to a common message board or, as Chris Ducker recommended, to a company culture website.
- Company blog. Consider starting a company blog where employees can share funny or inspirational posts. Decide on a format (example, personal or company-related) and set some ground rules (example, no back-biting or negative comments), but then let it grow. You could encourage participation by conducting weekly interviews, where you personally talk with a different person on your team.
As Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” By learning the stories of the people who make up your team, you’ll be able to relate so much better to each other and be reminded that, at the other end of the Ethernet line, there’s a human being with goals and dreams, quirks and a unique personality, a person you should definitely want to know, because after all, he or she will be helping you build your dreams, too.
How do you better relate to the people on your team?