At a management meeting, we had an assignment to complete. Two managers, unknown to each other, were to ask each other one question. Neither of us were particularly extroverted or personal in our communication style, we had leadership practices in common. The surprising thing for both of us was that it took no more than 7 minutes to establish mutual trust, commitment and reinforce a sense of belonging.

Written by: Vigdis Austrheim

Together with over 300 other managers, I listened to Professor Bård Kuvaas at BI, talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He referred to research, 259 studies with 219,624 respondents to look at what are the most important psychological factors for intrinsic motivation, work performance, accountability and good physical and mental health. The answer, in short, is: more autonomy/self-directedness, mastery and belonging.

You probably already knew this, and it's also been the foundation of my leadership style for the past 10 years, so why am I still so keen to learn more about this? The short answer is that many managers lack a structured way of working with autonomy, belonging and mastery in everyday life. Managers lack knowledge about how to proceed. So here are two concrete suggestions for you as a start to a structure you can add to your calendar so that you can implement.

Read also: How to find the right problem and create better decision-making processes

How to create a sense of belonging as a leader

Introduce a management practice and MAT rates as part of the structure

Leadership practice is a deliberate structure for good everyday leadership, where you define actions to increase autonomy, mastery and belonging.

Here at businessmastering, we have introduced MAT talks into our management practice.

MAT talk stands for:

  • M - Mastery

  • A - Autonomy

  • T - Belonging

Vigdis Austreheim

Vigdis Austrheim
Partner and advisor, Business Mastering

We have "Walk & talk" conversations outside where we talk about the above topics. Often a 20-30 minute conversation, preferably before the performance review or as part of regular 1:1 conversations.

It was one of those MAT chats I had with the manager I'd never met before. It took less than 10 minutes to reinforce my own motivation and sense of belonging to my own job and workplace. The one question we asked each other was: What does belonging mean to you?

Our conversation was about belonging to our work tasks, about why we had this particular job, about the workplace and our colleagues, but we also touched on fundamental values we had brought with us from our upbringing and environment, and which had influenced us. Our sense of belonging and motivation for our work tasks was reinforced through a good, short conversation. So for those of you who are struggling to get your employees on board, start with MAT talks.

Establish a fixed sharing arena

Another tool I've used to reinforce a sense of belonging and mastery is to facilitate what I call "sharing arenas". The aim is to create a meeting place for sharing success stories and learning. As a manager, I've only given a brief introduction, then it's the team that comes forward. We celebrate, give recognition and share, even the things that haven't gone so well. When I worked at Microsoft Norway, as a major customer director, I established an hour every other week for sharing, we called it Happy Hour. It was non-alcoholic, with coffee and maybe an ice cream, but a lot of good humor and positive energy as the framework for sharing. We shared insights from good meetings, we celebrated progress and results, we shared insights, we reinforced the importance and meaning of our jobs, recognition was given, big and small events were shared.

Sharing arenas and a culture of sharing enhance the sense of empowerment and belonging. Some workplaces use digital tools for sharing, such as Slack, Yammer and Workplace by Facebook. Surprisingly few managers are active in these channels. Use them, there is a lot of work motivation to be gained by supporting them, showing that you have seen and read, and not least leading the way as a role model.

"A culture of sharing creates greater understanding, ownership, competitive advantage, pride and belonging."

Vigdis Austrheim

If you don't have a structured leadership practice, I recommend that you establish one. Take concrete actions on a weekly basis that reinforce mastery, autonomy and belonging, the three elements that drive intrinsic motivation.

Belonging is transferred to employees

And one last thing, don't forget that once you've reinforced a sense of belonging to your tasks and job, employees will feel it. Then there's one important thing you shouldn't forget: end work relationships in a good way. I happened to meet a former colleague who was about to have her last day at a workplace where she had worked for over 10 years. She was disappointed and sad, she was unsure whether her colleagues knew that the following day was her last day of work and whether her manager had organized a farewell for her. That's not okay, good management practices are especially important in situations like hiring and termination of employment. A good sense of belonging to the workplace lasts beyond the end of the employment relationship, and in this case it didn't end as well.

As BI's research reports emphasize, the more intrinsically motivated you are, the better your work performance and increased job satisfaction. An employee who is more externally motivated, by bonuses and titles, performs worse in the long run. An externally motivated employee also thinks more about quitting their job. As a manager, you can prevent this by reinforcing pride and emotional ties to the workplace every day. If you are intrinsically motivated and feel a strong sense of belonging to your tasks, colleagues and workplace, you will put in extra effort over time.

You can get some tips from above and get started by taking several MAT classes, which is a good start.

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