Feeling left out is unbearable for most people. It leads to stress and makes people ill in the long run. Being there, feeling part of a community, brings satisfaction to life. Social bonds are boosters for our well-being. People work in teams because they achieve more than they would alone. What makes teams strong, where do dangers lurk, and why is cultivating relationships also work?
"When, if not now? Where, if not here? Who if not us?" John F. Kennedy was a master of emotional rhetoric aimed at community strength. The gifted orator also appealed to the power of community with his exclamation "Ich bin ein Berliner" in 1963 in front of Schöneberg City Hall in what was then West Berlin. We stand together, especially in difficult times.
The Corona pandemic, the war in Ukraine and, as a result, exploding energy and electricity prices and inflation are putting social cohesion to a serious test. The now famous saying "We can do it!" by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel would certainly be a unifying guiding principle in the current situation. Especially for the political shapers: less party-political banter, more togetherness to overcome the crisis. After all, the "we" requires common ideas and goals.
Meaning is the glue
The greater the differences in a community, the more difficult it is to develop a shared sense of we. This is a real challenge for large companies: It is not uncommon for groups of employees to form at the same hierarchical level or with similar work tasks. We understand each other, we stick together. Here, the “WE feeling” can lead to compartmentalization. We are less interested in the rest of our colleagues. A strong bulwark against corrosive silo thinking is a robust corporate culture that manifests itself in a corporate sense developed and supported by all employees. This sense of purpose is the glue that binds the company together. At Deutsche Telekom, we won’t stop until everyone is connected. The idea behind this purpose is one that everyone can subscribe to. What we do as Telekom is important for our community. We create the foundations for the digitization of our society. We connect people.
Digitization: Paying attention to every person
However, it is also clear that the further digitization progresses and thus has more and more influence on our work, the more we have to pay attention to people. Time and again, people talk about putting people at the center. This must not degenerate into a phrase. Otherwise, the "we" feeling will be gone very quickly. And focusing on the "we," especially in times of uncertainty and crisis, is virtually the order of the day.
Individualism on the rise
In parallel, however, individualism has also been emerging as a megatrend for many years. "The ego is being redefined," writes the Zukunftsinstitut. "In the process, the relationship between I and we is also being renegotiated." The development is increasing worldwide, note Oliver Hermann, responsible for "New Ways of Working" at Deutsche Telekom, and his co-authors Rainer Klose, Telekom Squad Leader for "Living Culture," and economics professor Matthias Spörrle in the recently published compendium "Mastering Crises with a Strong Psyche". This harbors dangers. Namely, when healthy individualism ends in egoism and is placed above the common good. Strong individualists, tend to take less responsibility for others and integrate less in the team, the authors sum up.
"Teams function well when they can create a balance between individual and group identity," says Joachim Hasebrook, professor of human capital management at Steinbeis University in Berlin. Even Apple founder Steve Jobs, who didn't exactly suffer from a lack of ego, was well aware that team play is the key driver of success: "Great developments in companies never come from one person. They are the product of a team."
Is the "we" feeling enough for strong teams to develop successfully? Not by itself, but it is the foundation for well-functioning groups. Other factors include diversity, work preferences of individual group members, and psychological safety.
Diversity: Better decisions
Never before have so many different age groups worked together in companies as they do today. If prejudices and conflicts between generations are overcome in the process. When baby boomers and generations X, Y, Z accept their differences, the different perspectives can energize the team. The same is true for teams with people of different origins and genders. An analysis of 600 decisions from 200 teams with varying degrees of diversity found that the percentage of very good decisions was 87 percent for a team with geographic and age and gender diversity. In contrast, the all-male group came in at only 58 percent.
Work preferences: It's the mix that counts
When unleashing performance in a team or organization, it is essential to understand the work preferences of the individuals on the team. The Team Management System (TMS) developed by Australian scientists Charles Margerison and Dick McCann in the mid-1980s is a tool for systemic organizational and personnel development. Eight work functions are defined - from developing to organizing to implementing. The idea is that if all preferences are present in the team, a high-performing team is formed. Important for it to work: All team members must respect each other's work styles. The spontaneous idea generator is just as important for success as the impatient doer or meticulous analyst.
Psychological Safety: Trust is everything
"Good teams don't keep secrets from each other. Everything is shared with each other, whether mistakes, weaknesses and worries - without fear of reprisals," knows the American author Patrick Lencioni ("The Five Dysfunctions of a Team"). Honest, appreciative feedback, arguing about the matter belong to a good culture, to the we-feeling. Importantly, people should not be afraid of being sanctioned or rejected if they admit mistakes or speak unpleasant truths. If they show themselves vulnerable or insecure. "We have to create a trustworthy and respectful interaction in the teams, where people feel empowered and can express their opinions without inhibitions," emphasizes Telekom Chief Human Resources Officer Birgit Bohle. A two-year study at Google confirmed the positive influence of "psychological security" on team performance.
A sense of "we" in hybrid working
Hybrid working is here to stay. But when we're scattered across different work locations, how do we maintain or develop a sense of "we" across the tightest circle of colleagues? A Microsoft study from 2021 showed that when working purely virtually, interaction within established teams and structures is indeed intensified. But the circle of communicators becomes smaller, and communication with people from the wider network is significantly restricted. The so-called "weak ties," i.e., the more casual, informal encounters among less "close" colleagues, suffer, writes Birgit Bohle in an article on the innovation culture from LinkedIn. Yet it is precisely these "weak ties" that are a catalyst for corporate innovation, which in turn can create a sense of "we.
The one culture of we
"We must therefore invest and become creative, especially in the virtual space, in order to open up the possibility of chance encounters again and again," demands Birgit Bohle. For the CHRO, there is namely only one culture – whether on-site in the office or virtually in the video conference – to which everyone feels connected. The American poet Mattie Stepanek once expressed this "we-ness" as follows: "Unity is our strength. With a strong team, we can accomplish anything."
How will New Work be implemented at DT? What can we learn from others? Find the answers in our special about New Work.