I have long advocated using diverse teams. And while diverse teams can produce better results, they can often take longer to gel. Building connections is an important part of team building. So, what can project managers do to help teams build project team connections?
Sebastian Junger, in his book, Tribe – On Homecoming and Belonging, talks about self-determination theory – which says that humans need to feel three things to be happy: competent, authentic, and connected. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, talks about his theory that we need autonomy, mastery and purpose to be motivated.
Since motivation and happiness seem pretty intertwined to me, how do we reconcile the notion of autonomy with connectedness? How can we create a work environment where teams feel connected, supported, and appreciated and still have a work environment where people enjoy autonomy?
Junger makes a rather startling comment in his book that a “wealthy person who has never had to rely on help and resources from his community is leading a privileged life that falls way outside more than a million years of human experience.” 
Whether that statement is true or not, teams on which individuals trust one another enough to ask for help are going to be more effective. Part of reaching that high level of trust is building connections with people. Here are six suggestions on how to build project team connections.
Pick your battles.
Every parent understands this advice. We have all been in meetings when a discussion began to frustrate us. Or, we’ve been on an email thread where someone starting espousing some idea that we thought was crazy. Pick your battles. When you are sitting in that meetings and becoming frustrated, ask yourself to rank this feeling on a one to ten scale. You can’t fight every battle. Save your ammunition for the major problems.
You might ask how this suggestion helps with building connections. It’s simple. Most people are not interested in bonding with people who want to fight a new battle every week. If you have someone on your team who wants to do that, encourage him or her to pick battles carefully.
Use agendas with defined time slots.
When you are sitting in that meeting, listening to someone else talk, it’s so helpful to understand how long this section of the agenda is supposed to last. And when you are the person who is speaking you understand whether this item is a major or minor item and can couch your remarks appropriately.
This suggestion is less about how to build connections and more about ensuring that you create a healthy environment, where connections can build. No one likes being in meetings where people feel frustrated and when it happens over and over again, the only connections you might be building are connections of mutual frustration with the project manager.
Focus on the good.
Are you the kind of person who always sees the good, or are you one who sees the bad? Obviously focusing on the good is easier for people with a natural inclination in that direction.
I remember years ago when a colleague made the statement to me that a particular friend (who was driving me crazy) was doing the best she could. I think my mouth dropped, at what I thought was a ridiculous statement, since I was certain this friend could do a whole lot better. A long conversation ensued with this colleague, and she finally convinced me that, generally speaking, people are doing the best they can at any point in time. We just don’t always know what other burdens people are carrying that might cause them to perform the way they do.
So, try to accept the premise that everyone is doing the best they can, and focus on the good. I’m not suggesting that the bad doesn’t sometimes need to be addressed. But we don’t need to escalate every mistake, ill-timed comment, or bad day into a crisis. We’re all human.
Celebrate your common humanity.
There seems to be a lot of focus on celebrating diversity, for good reasons. Yet to some extent, a focus on what divides us may be impeding our ability to bond. Rachel Yehuda, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, works with traumatized vets. According to Yehuda, “If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different— you underscore your shared humanity…. I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” [Junger, Sebastian (2016-05-24). Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Kindle Locations 1154-1156). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.]
Build commitment to your ‘why.’
I’ve written about the importance of knowing your ‘why?’ before. In Junger’s book, he writes of the difficulties that war vets have in letting go of the past. So often, while that past was filled with horrid trauma, it was also a time when people were bonded with others who were committed to the same objective. Everyone understood the ‘why.’ When teams are fully committed to their ‘why?’ it can be transformative.
In some cultures, people don’t even get down to business until after considerable time drinking tea. And rushing that getting acquainted time can have disastrous effects if you are trying to persuade the other side to see things differently. Teams simply need to spend time together, and sharing a meal is fun.
Building connections on your teams is probably best done in an organic way. It can’t be forced. And yet, there are some things that project managers can do to set the stage for healthy team development. And when your teams are fully committed to the goal and to each other, stay out of the way and let them work their magic.
Want more tips on how to build project team connections? Sign up for our newsletter.
 Junger, Sebastian (2016-05-24). Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Kindle Location 245-247). Grand Central Publishing.