The Power of the Heart: Creating community in your workplace

by  Chris Edmonds  |  Team Dynamics
The Power of the Heart: Creating Community in Your Workplace

What’s the best and most effective team you ever served on? Think of a team – at work, school, sports, neighborhood, wherever – where you genuinely contributed to the team’s goals and you were treated with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.

I ask this question frequently – of executives I’m coaching to improve their company’s culture, of keynote audiences, in leadership workshops, and more.

For many people, their best team experience pops right up in their memory banks. I ask what that team was like for them. They report that serving on that team was fun. Goals were met without drama. Relationships were honest, civil, and real. There was a true bond created among team members and with the team leader. Everyone was fully committed to the team’s present day purpose. Issues were resolved promptly. There was genuine trust and respect exhibited.

Then I ask how their team leader created that environment.

No matter how different the context of people’s “best team” was – work or outside of work – the answers to this question are always the same.

That team leader trusted us. She delegated authority and responsibility when we earned it. He called us on our crappy behavior. She praised us and gave credit frequently. He got his hands dirty, helping with the work when things got hectic. She challenged us. He kept it light with fun stories and “spur of the moment” celebrations. She held us accountable for our commitments. He valued us as “whole persons,” supporting our lives outside of work.

These effective leader behaviors are common across industries, countries, and decades. They’re proven practices for engaging team members’ hearts (spirit), not just their heads (knowledge) and their hands (skills).

These leaders created a strong community where team members engaged in efforts daily to do their individual jobs well AND to help their team succeed.

When I ask audiences whether or not their current boss models these best practices, the reaction is muted. Often, the reaction is crickets (overwhelming silence with periodic chirps). That’s a strong indicator that these behaviors are not common in their current jobs.

The research on employee engagement isn’t pretty. A 2015 Gallup survey indicated that engagement is stagnant in the US with 32 percent of employees being engaged. A 2014 Tiny HR study found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work.

Why is it so hard for leaders to embrace these proven practices with their teams today? Leaders know what is required – the list of beneficial behaviors hasn’t changed in years!

I think there are a number of hurdles that inhibit leaders embracing these behaviors. They aren’t asked to manage people’s hearts; leaders are incented to drive results. Leaders may think praising and encouraging people is “soft” and not relevant to the work. There aren’t consistent reliable dashboards available to measure trust, respect, engagement, etc.

So, these best practices are ignored in many workplaces around the globe.

The impact of a “results, results, results” focus are significant. Performance might be OK when the leader is present, monitoring the work. When the leader isn’t there, output and quality often decreases. Proactive problem solving is reduced. If team members don’t feel valued and respected, why should they apply themselves, more than the minimum?

And, the improving economy is seeing American employees voluntarily quit their jobs at a higher rate since the start of the global recession in 2008.

Engage team members’ hearts by valuing their contributions and ideas, thanking them for their efforts and accomplishments, trusting them to act in alignment, and celebrating traction and successes regularly. It can’t hurt – can it?

What would you add as a workplace community-building strategy?
Photo Credit: Fotolia: Yang MingQi

About The Author

Articles By chris-edmonds
S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, thought leader, author, and executive consultant. He writes books. He blogs and podcasts. He’s a working musician on the side.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Grenae Thompson  |  04 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Good article, Chris. I love the idea of leaders building community. As you said, most leaders think they must shy away from behaviors of the heart. You might find my LinkedIn article “5 Ways to Improve Empathy at Work” a good complement to your work. Thanks for shining a light on The Power of the Heart!

Chris Edmonds  |  04 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Thanks so much for your comment and recommendation, Grenae – will check it out!



Jane  |  04 Mar 2016  |  Reply

There are so many ideas racing around in my head, but here are my top two ways to build community.
1. Transparency. Assemble the team and layout the pattern of what the project looks like, the responsibilities, and the people who are assigned. Point out why assignments were made so discussion can take place and expectations stated.
2. Feedback. There are corrections and there are compliments. Sounds true. But in fact, even a correction can be embedded in a compliment. It’s not the natural response but it can be done.

Thanks for sharing your article and asking for new ideas. Chris.

Chris Edmonds  |  05 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Thank you, Jane! I love your two additions – transparency and feedback are vital tools for building trust, respect, and dignity within a workplace community!



John Smith  |  04 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Chris – as usual, you have shared insight and wisdom around how we work with each other.

I share your disappointment that we often seem no closer to resolving these workplace issues than we have been in the past. As you point out wistfully, we know what works best and we have known this for a long time.

Great summary statement and I love the little tartness at the end:

“Engage team members’ hearts by valuing their contributions and ideas, thanking them for their efforts and accomplishments, trusting them to act in alignment, and celebrating traction and successes regularly. It can’t hurt – can it?”

As to why we are not all living in the leadership promised land, I wonder that as well. It seems that you allude to one important element when you said “They aren’t asked to manage people’s hearts; leaders are incented to drive results.”

Leadership occurs at many levels, for better and for worse. I have often noticed a significantly higher awareness of and desire to engage in positive and effective leadership practices (see your list above) among those in the lower to middle ranks of organizational leadership than in the top levels.

Just like in our society, we have the 98% and the 1% (numbers not accurate, but that is not critical either). The “98%” might be the majority of those in leadership positions, while the “1%” represent those at the very top, who have power and authority far beyond their numbers. Sometimes it seems that the typical front-line leader and the typical CEO are not even inhabiting the same planet … no wonder that their views on engagement and connection are significantly different.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post:)


Chris Edmonds  |  05 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Love your insights, John! We’re of one heart and mind on this – leaders are not asked to manage people effectively, yet it is by far the trait that we love from our best bosses!

The separation you describe between bosses and their team members (I was tempted to write “minions” because many bosses see their direct reports that way!) is a major detriment to employees feeling valued, respected, and trusted every day!



Kevin  |  12 Mar 2016  |  Reply

The quality that I use is relationship building. Fostering strong relationships with your team of employees is paramount in building community within your team. If your team respects you from what you have done to build strong relationships with them then they will go the extra distance to show their respect. Of course what you do and say to build these relationships has to show strong integrity on your part. Without that you will not build the community that you want to have engaged team mates.

Chris Edmonds  |  12 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Thanks for your comments and experiences, Kevin. Much appreciated!



Join The Conversation