What’s the secret formula that turns a group of people into a cohesive team? The answer lies in one powerful word: Belonging. It’s the magic ingredient that wraps you in comfort, filling you with confidence and a sense of connection. It’s more than a warm, fuzzy feeling—it’s the rocket fuel that drives employee engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, and success.
Picture this: When I first joined The Hershey Company’s Sales Development team, I knew I was stepping into the big leagues—a dozen top performers and me, the new guy. I was warned to be humble and not “shine too brightly.” And whatever I did, I needed to keep an eye on a fellow named Chad.
Now, Chad was your classic overachiever, with just enough arrogance to make sure everyone knew it. He took an immediate dislike to me, bragging about his plans to become president of the company, and ominously warning that he’d “be watching me.” Not exactly a warm welcome.
But it was during a town hall meeting in the grand Hershey Theater that Chad’s one-upmanship took a bizarre twist. As I filed into my seat, who jumped ahead and parked himself next to me? You guessed it, Chad.
He glanced at my outfit and frowned, telling me, “You really should think more about how you dress. You’re wearing a blue dress shirt, and the rest of our team is wearing white.” I looked down the row and, sure enough, everyone was in white. I was the odd man out, feeling like I’d worn a party hat to a board meeting.
Embarrassment gnawed at me throughout the meeting, all thanks to a simple blue shirt. Chad’s smirk and warning felt like an overblown reaction, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d made a “career-limiting move.”
Later, I shared the incident with my team lead, John, who burst out laughing and reassured me, “Chad’s just trying to intimidate you. Don’t worry about it.”
The next day, I walked into a meeting to find a sea of blue shirts staring back at me. Chad was the only one in white. I couldn’t help but smile, and my teammates returned the gesture.
After the meeting, John explained, “We wanted to send a message. We’re a team, and we stick together. We also want you to know that you belong here.”
That day, a blue shirt became more than just a fashion faux pas; it was a symbol of acceptance and teamwork. I realized that strong leaders instill a sense of belonging and help others feel secure and valued.
Here are 7 unconventional principles that will build a sense of belonging and transform your team:
- The Importance of Team Unity and Support. A collective approach can create a sense of belonging, emphasizing the value of unity within a team. This was epitomized by my teammates’ decision to wear blue shirts in solidarity. How can you foster unity and support in your own team? By celebrating the uniqueness of each member, and by acknowledging and supporting their individuality, you reinforce the idea that everyone has a place and a role.
- The Impact of Intimidation Tactics. Even seemingly insignificant actions or words can have a profound effect on others, like Chad’s comment about my blue shirt. It underscores the need to approach interactions with empathy and awareness. How will you ensure that your communication is supportive rather than intimidating?
- Leadership’s Role in Fostering Inclusivity. Leaders play a vital role in shaping an inclusive culture, showing empathy and encouragement, as John did for me. What steps can you take to build an inclusive culture? Recognize and address instances of exclusion, even if they seem trivial, and actively foster an environment of support.
- Personal Confidence and Self-Expression. Being true to oneself is essential. My blue shirt, although a departure from the norm, became a symbol of acceptance. How will you nurture personal confidence in your team? Encourage self-expression and applaud those who dare to be different.
- The Symbolism of Small Gestures. Small symbols can carry profound meanings, like the sea of blue shirts that welcomed me. What symbols or gestures could strengthen your team’s bond? Create shared symbols that reflect your team’s values and connection.
- Effective Communication and Open Dialogue. Open and honest communication fosters understanding, as seen when John reassured me. How can you promote open dialogue within your team? Encourage open communication, and make sure all team members know that their feelings and perceptions are valued.
- Collective Stand Against Negative Behavior. A collective, values-driven stand can counteract negativity. My team’s response to Chad’s intimidation set standards for acceptable behavior. How will you collectively set standards that promote positivity? Define and reinforce values and take a stand when those values are challenged.
These seven principles, learned from a simple blue shirt, offer a blueprint for building a workplace where belonging is at the core. They teach us that everyone has a role to play, that each voice matters, and that true belonging is not about blending in but standing out.
Are you ready to find your “blue shirt”? Embrace these lessons, weave them into your leadership, and watch as belonging transforms your team from ordinary to extraordinary. Now’s the time to make everyone feel at home in your workplace. It’s not just about the shirts; it’s about the hearts that wear them.
Want to learn more about leveling up your leadership skills? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.