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Describe How People Are Interdependent to Improve Workplace Well-Being


Wed Aug 07 2013

Describe How People Are Interdependent to Improve Workplace Well-Being

Over the past three weeks, we have discussed many aspects of virtual distance and social well-being.

The first post described the notion of virtual distance and how it affects relationships on an organizational scale. Virtual distance, the sense that we are separate from one another no matter where we are physically located, eats away at social well-being. To improve the situation, minimizing virtual distance must become a management priority.


In the second post I explained how and why context is essential for meaningful communication. When people do not have enough contextual markers to anchor their understanding of what someone else is trying to say—as is true in many electronic communiqués—it is nearly impossible to discern meaning and establish common foundations. Managers must restore shared context among their teams through regular and descriptive communications.

The third post highlighted face-to-face interactions—when they are essential, and when electronic communications will suffice. The lesson here is that being face-to-face helps to establish a layer of trust needed for long-term relationships. Virtual distance can be avoided to some degree when relationships begin with close personal contact. However, face-to-face interactions are not a panacea because virtual distance arises mainly from factors other than physical separation.

This brings us to the topic of the final post in this series: the importance of establishing a shared sense of interdependence among those in the virtual workforce. Virtual distance is amplified most when affinity with others is difficult to establish. When two people feel an affinity for each other, they share many of the same values. This leads to a shared motivation in getting the work done and enjoying a sense of satisfaction about it. Establishing feelings of shared interdependence is one of the most difficult things to do with the virtual workforce, and yet, without these close bonds, critical success factors become much more difficult to attain.

Even in the most traditional environments, it is difficult to build a felt sense of interdependence with team members and the organization as a whole. Kurt Lewin, a well-known theorist on the topic of group dynamics, explains that to foster productive teams, members must share the sense of a common future and fate. In the “old” days this was done through regular meetings in which managers emphasized successes that hinged on people helping each other and working together. But in today’s virtual workplace, in which people may never meet each other, establishing a shared sense of future and fate requires even more diligence and creativity on the part of leadership.

Here are a couple of potent ways that training professionals can help employees see how their success is inherently linked to others:


Train leaders to regularly showcase successes resulting from interdependent efforts. Each group encounter presents an opportunity to illuminate how team members are interdependent. One way to underscore this on a consistent basis is to include a “team member spotlight” in each meeting. Team member spotlights should paint a picture of how a particular success is the result of a combined effort. For example, say a team is responsible for producing a certain deliverable to meet customer demand. Instead of pointing out the “hero,” or glazing over the success altogether, the leader should develop a detailed story about how individuals on the team, working together, made the success a reality.

Case in point: I was working with a membership organization for children’s hospitals. Employees struggled to see how they directly contributed to the organization’s important work. After examining the virtual distance challenges, leadership realized that employees’ sense of shared future and fate had fallen away. They decided that at every regular meeting, successes would be described in a way that showcased how one person’s work tied to another, and then to another, and so forth until the combined effort led to a specific benefit for a child. While this took more effort on the part of management, it paid off. Individuals in the organization began to better understand how they were dependent on others to make the mission of the organization come to life. And this led to healthier relationships and improved social well-being.

Make metrics meaningful. Meeting defined measures has become standard in every organization across the globe. Leadership has a concomitant responsibility to show how team members contribute to eliminating costs or increasing revenue. In some cases it might be obvious—like a salesman who brings in a big deal. But when taken alone, the numbers often overshadow the achievements of a larger whole working together interdependently.

Case in point: Many years ago I was in charge of closing a $10 million dollar deal with one of the largest hotels and casinos in the world. I was responsible for all of the systems—from gaming, to hospitality and front desk, to food and beverage. It was a major deal for the organization and the largest revenue producer in that particular vertical industry. At the end of the year, I was asked to give a presentation on how to close multimillion-dollar sales working with large teams. I chose to write a speech in which I showcased each and every part of the company—from the maintenance workers who made headquarters look immaculate when the client visited, to HR who helped me with difficult travel when my mother grew ill in the middle of the project, to the systems engineers who were always on call when difficulties arose. My presentation was a hit, and I was delighted for the opportunity to thank the many people who helped to get the job done.

In sum, social well-being in an organization is an elusive construct. Many training and development professionals are seeing the need to offer solutions to improve interpersonal and interdependent relationships. But it’s often difficult to know where to start. Virtual distance—a measureable phenomenon now gripping many organizations, allows leadership to see just how poignant relationship distress can be to the bottom line. Addressing virtual distance to improve social well-being pays off when organizations increase competitive advantage and create more sustainable employee well-being.


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