Nov 6, 2019, 12:28 PM

Week 2 - Reconnect: Overcoming cultural barriers to fundraising

Loneliness is a crowded room

In the second of four articles on overcoming the cultural barriers to fundraising, Action Planning Consultant Emily Petty explains the importance of human connection.

Humans have a basic need to connect - to be loved. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need places love and belonging as the third human need after basic physiological needs and safety. However, studies on infants have shown that if you keep an infant fed and clean, yet deny them physical contact, they fail to thrive, develop or grow.

Like infants, we need to feel connected to those around us if we are going to succeed and thrive at work.

Rethinking our connection theories
Statistics show that we are feeling more disconnected than ever. Take the open-plan office: the theory is that by having everyone working in one space you are more connected with your colleagues. Yet studies have shown that the open-plan office actually decreases the sense of connection and increases stress.

A test of open-plan offices published in Arch Daily noted that “the employees suffered according to every measure, the new space was disruptive, stressful and cumbersome, and instead of feeling closer, co-workers felt distant, dissatisfied and resentful”.

At the other end of the spectrum, remote working is on the rise. This is considered to be a good thing for employee wellbeing but, having managed a remote team, I know that it also brings its own connection challenges. Really small things can become big barriers. For example, if you have regular conference calls it is important to notice if someone isn’t contributing and find out why. It might be that they feel unprepared, they don’t have the agenda or they don’t know who else is in the room. Small things that are easily overlooked can increase the sense of isolation and loneliness.

The more you put connection on your agenda, the less likely you are to overlook these things. You’ll become more aware of the prime moments of increased isolation: when a staff member is new, when they’re returning from maternity or paternity leave, when they have moved teams, even when they’ve just been promoted.

What impact does lack of connection have in the workplace?
Loneliness can have a big impact on an individual’s morale and self-esteem. It is directly related to stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown shares the story of Colonel DeDe Halfhill, who is Director of Innovation, Analysis and Leadership Development for the US Air Force Global Strike Command, made up of 33,000 officers and enlisted and civilian airmen. At a presentation, Halfhill opened the floor to questions and an airman asked if the work was going to slow down, because everyone was really tired. As she explored the issue with the group, it soon became clear that they were actually lonely. They had no connection and that was causing them to become burnt out.

If staff do not feel connected, they do not feel safe or able to speak up when things are going wrong. No one wants to be the dissenting voice, trust breaks down and there is a lack of psychological safety.

So how do you build connection?
Here are some top tips

  • Create physical or virtual space for teams to connect - it is useful to think about:
    • The space in your office for staff to relax and spend time together.
    • Where is the kettle or water cooler? Could they be in a place that helps different teams interact in new ways?
    • How are you using virtual tools? Why not create a quick and simple virtual check-in system with your remote team, so each day you are asking how people are and if they have any challenges?
  • Make everyday actions count – quickly thank someone for their contribution in a meeting as you walk back to your desks.
  • Create weekly moments for social connection – fizz Friday, wine down Friday, Friday quiz, Monday coffee.
  • Check in – ask your colleagues how they are today. Then listen.
  • Remember moments of isolation – make extra effort to notice and overcome those barriers. Eg share personal bios for new staff.
  • Share success and failure – you will build confidence and connection as people support each other through good and bad days.
  • Have regular feedback sessions – regularly asking the team to simply reflect on ‘What Went Well’ and what could have been ‘Even Better If’ opens dialogue and encourages a culture of feedback and learning from failure.

I challenge you to try at least one of these ideas and see how things change – then keep going. Building any relationship takes time; connections are made due to a series of small actions.

As a culture and fundraising consultant, I am passionate about helping charities build a relationship-led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. I’d love to hear more about how you are re-connecting in your teams.

Read the rest of the series

Part 1: Reboot: Overcoming cultural barriers to fundraising

Part 2: Reconnect: Overcoming cultural barriers to fundraising

Part 3: Grow: Give your team the confidence to tap into their talents

Part 4:  Re-energise: Sometimes we all need to switch off and start again

Emily Petty

Emily Petty is a fundraising and charity consultant, helping charities explore challenges and prepare solutions. Having drawn her experience from over 19 years working in communications, marketing and fundraising, Emily works with leaders and teams to identify how to manage change and maximise fundraising potential.

To share your connection stories, you can connect with Emily via office@actionplanning.co.uk