The fact is that the band got tired of their own song.  During several gigs, they stubbornly refused to perform the song, much to the dismay of the fans.  Apparently Steve Tyler, the singer from ‘Aerosmith’ even spread the message ‘Play the fuckin song’ during a joint tour to put an end to this discontent.  And, indeed, maybe the message of ‘More than Words’ deserves some ‘airplay’.  After all, the song is about how, when in love, the easily mumbled words ‘I love you’ are not translated into action often enough.

This message can apply equally to connection, the mainstay of a true and genuine community.  Since Corona everyone is convinced that we need deep connection more than ever, at home or at work.  In practice, however, there is a lot of talk about this need but initiatives remain limited to a superficial virtual coffee chat.  There are two reasons for this.  First of all, it is not in our Flemish nature to have thorough discussions on problems, let alone personal mistakes.  On the other hand, certainly in organisations, we have the tendency to reduce connection to a ‘one size fits all’ approach, which means we do not reach everyone.

Sharing doubts or problems fulfills an important function in any relationship, creating openness and reciprocity.  The latter is essential because today’s challenges have no ready-made answers.  The search for a solution therefore lies increasingly in co-creation and in complementing each other.  This requires us to dare to allow ourselves to show that we are vulnerable and to share doubts.  Unfortunately, we see little of that happening.  It is also striking that the sharing of doubts often declines the higher up the corporate ladder you go.  It appears that doubts are seen as a weakness, that expressing doubt is a sign of stupidity.  However, the opposite is true.  Charles Bukowski describes it as follows:  ‘The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence’.  The lack of openness about doubts is further reduced through social media, which encourage us to polish up our personal badges.  Forming a real community, however, requires depth and sincere connection, not ‘Fakebook’.

Transcending the prevailing superficiality, that is our task.  This can be achieved by first of all creating a culture in which connecting by sharing questions or doubts does become the norm.  In this connection think of ‘failforward events’ where we lower the threshold for talking about mistakes.  Efficient teams also use something like ‘structured-unstructured’ time, i.e. pre-planned moments where the topic of discussion is not predetermined.  If this leads to questions about help, intervisions  - digital or other - are organised immediately to provide support to one another.  And even the classical methods, such as setting up a buddy system or appointing a godfather/godmother, can still offer solace in a digital age.

Research does show that exemplary behaviour by management is essential to make such a culture of openness possible.  In one of his podcasts on leadership, Adam Grant gives the example of a fire service commander who, in contrast to the macho culture, gave his team an explicit guarantee that requests for help would always receive an answer, and that this would happen without negative consequences.  This behaviour led immediately to an increase in the number of requests for help from colleagues and to closer cooperation.  The impact of behaviour is many times greater than the impact of a yellowed value charter that disfigures many a company wall.  In other words (exemplary) behaviour is an important communication tool for a leader.  Employees judge their leaders by their behaviour, not by their intentions.  Giving exemplary behaviour concrete form through dilemma exercises (if this happens, we’ll do …) with leaders bears fruit in this area.  Unless, of course, we try to force the results of these exercise into lists, such as regulations.

Because that brings us to the persistent tendency of organisations, albeit with the best of intentions, to reduce good ideas about connection to universally applicable systems.  This however is contrary to the very essence of effective communication, namely reducing noise between the sender and the receiver.  Often the choice of a particular system actually induces noise.  Just thing of the ‘check-in’, regular coordination moments that experts believe should replace the existing formal conversations.  Already we see templates and checklists popping up everywhere that prescribe the conduct of these moments in full.  Now if these ‘check-in’ moments are going to happen everywhere based on the same lists they are guaranteed to overshoot their noble goal of true connection.  So, ask your community what they expect or need from these ‘check-in’ moments.  When tackling the topic of connection always ask what the preferred form, content, frequency and channel is within your community.

In short, connection begins with the question about what connection means for our cooperation.