6 minute read 15 Feb 2022
Seven steps to build high-belonging teams

Seven steps to build high-belonging teams

Authors
Jeff Stier

EY Americas Consulting Purpose & Vision Realized Leader

Vision-led and purpose-driven leader. Accelerator of innovation.

Woodruff (Woody) Driggs

EY Americas Consulting Digital Transformation Wavespace Leader

Digital transformation wavespace leader helping EY clients re-imagine their future so they can thrive in the transformative age.

6 minute read 15 Feb 2022

A record 4.5 million US workers quit their jobs in November 2021 as part of the Great Resignation trend.

In brief

  1. High-belonging teams are an antidote to the Great Resignation because they create an environment that attracts and retains employees. 
  2. High-belonging teams are higher-performing teams. 
  3. High-belonging teams, by definition, help an organization achieve desired outcomes around corporate DEI¹ strategies and initiatives — a space where all team members feel they belong. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.5 million US workers quit their jobs in November 2021 as part of the Great Resignation trend we’ve been examining over the last several months.² In our last piece on this topic, we discussed how the traditional employer-employee relationship has been forever altered during the pandemic and outlined the mindset shift required for senior executives to understand employees’ needs and start to overcome this phenomenon.

As a next step — and with an eye toward retaining top employees and also attracting new ones — we believe it’s important for these leaders to make several foundational culture changes across their organizations. Namely, they must proactively deliver in crucial areas, including fostering a sense of belonging for all; a culture of employee well-being; an inclusive team environment in which employees bring their authentic selves to work; more opportunities to upskill, build connections and form trusted relationships; and a fundamentally human-first approach to work.

This guide features strategies that organizations can use to help every individual employee belong, grow and thrive. This, in turn, will keep them happy, productive, engaged and motivated to stay with the company for the long term — all of which are crucial to the growth and success of any organization.

What we know about belonging

According to a recent survey of US workers,³ having a sense of belonging at work is among the top five key factors in an employee’s decision to stay with an employer. At the same time, during the pandemic, this has been challenging for some companies. While the new hybrid workplace model that combines in-office and remote work comes with many benefits (e.g., greater flexibility, more time with family and friends), it also imposes a “belonging tax” on your people, resulting in a sense of seclusion, more isolated social experiences and missed opportunities for advancement.

For most individuals, the belonging tax is simply accepted as the price they must pay for convenience, flexibility and work-life balance. And at the same time, for many, the “stickiness” created by proximity of making personal connections, visibility and influence is gone. And so, for organizations, the belonging tax means increased costs as job satisfaction suffers and employees seek alternatives elsewhere.  

How high-belonging teams enable better retention

High-belonging teams achieve this “triple play” in two key ways. First, because every human wants to be valued; seen; heard; and treated fairly as an authentic individual with personal values, ambitions and needs, a high-belonging approach to teaming fills a void that has exacerbated the Great Resignation. Second, most workers want to be part of cultures and teams where they are treated as the unique human beings they are — their authentic selves.

“… employees are rethinking not just how they work, but why they work and what they most want to do with their careers and lives.” – Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn CEO⁴

“Not only are people are talking about when, where, and how they work, but also why they work. They really want to recontract, in some sense, the real meaning of work … .” – Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO⁵  

Why high belonging matters and how to achieve it

One of the most significant attributes of High-Belonging Teams is the increased sense of trust that accompanies more inclusive and empathetic behavior. For example, in the 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey, 88% of respondents said that empathetic leadership creates loyalty among employees toward their leaders. It also leads to higher psychological safety and lower stress among team members, empowering them to be their authentic selves, take risks and experiment with innovation, actively work to improve connection and collaboration, and have a greater sense of fulfillment and engagement, all of which lead to better retention. The results of the 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey further demonstrate these benefits (see Figure 1).

Moreover, the third tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — love and belonging — also suggests that humans are biologically and psychologically programmed to search for belonging (see Figure 2). And when they find it, they will go to great lengths to retain it.

Why start with teams rather than individuals or the entire corporate culture? It is rare that people come to work and operate as a solo practitioner. Rather, they typically operate as part of a team. Our approach focuses on (i) developing a high-belonging culture by building one high-belonging team at a time and (ii) shifting team mindsets and behaviors using the EY High-Belonging Teams Framework

EY research shows that Gen Z employees in particular, along with workers from every generation, are seeking organizations that create values-based, authentic, humanistic communities. They expect the companies they work for to do more than simply make money for shareholders, such as standing for something meaningful today and having clear visions for the value they plan to create tomorrow for stakeholders and society.

As such, we believe that leveraging Maslow’s hierarchy and the EY High-Belonging Teams Framework will enable CEOs and boards to create a greater sense of employee belonging, attract and retain top talent, and accelerate away from the symptoms and negative impact of the Great Resignation. Here are seven practical steps for senior executives to start the journey toward creating a high-belonging corporate culture, one high-belonging team at a time:

  1. Lead with purpose. Operate the organization from a foundation of daily purpose, future vision and core values.
  2. Empower employees to embrace their authentic selves at work. Allow employees to discover and articulate their purpose, vision, and values in the workplace in authentic ways.
  3. Upskill team leaders and executives. Both executives and team leaders are role models for the entire organization. Teach them how to coach and empower small teams to have a higher sense of belonging, which is built one team at a time.
  4. Reward team leaders and hold them accountable. Embed a net belonging score (NBS) into your performance management platform, benchmark progress and amplify success stories
  5. Leverage a Trust Accelerator mindset. Advance the journey toward purpose realization for every team member by regularly investing graciously in actions that help team members embrace their Authentic You.
  6. Hold company executives accountable. Evolve executive compensation to hold team leaders accountable for achieving minimum KPIs related to creating and sustaining High-Belonging Teams.
  7. Evolve your employee value proposition. Create a culture that better enables workers to satisfy the human need to belong. 

As we continue to see significant transformation across the working world, leveraging High-Belonging Teams will enable businesses to proactively get ahead of the Great Resignation by creating a team and corporate culture that attracts and retains top talent. In addition, we believe that, over time, our High-Belonging Teams Framework will quantitatively and qualitatively prove to have a direct correlation to team performance. Thus, higher-belonging teams will become a core driver of higher-performing teams and deliver a measurable financial ROI in addition to improving the well-being and fulfillment of employees.  

Summary

As we continue to see significant transformation across the working world, leveraging High-Belonging Teams will enable businesses to proactively get ahead of the Great Resignation by creating a team and corporate culture that attracts and retains top talent. In addition, we believe that, over time, our High-Belonging Teams Framework will quantitatively and qualitatively prove to have a direct correlation to team performance. Thus, higher-belonging teams will become a core driver of higher-performing teams and deliver a measurable financial ROI in addition to improving the well-being and fulfillment of employees.  

About this article

Authors
Jeff Stier

EY Americas Consulting Purpose & Vision Realized Leader

Vision-led and purpose-driven leader. Accelerator of innovation.

Woodruff (Woody) Driggs

EY Americas Consulting Digital Transformation Wavespace Leader

Digital transformation wavespace leader helping EY clients re-imagine their future so they can thrive in the transformative age.