How to Teach Your Team to be Kind

Recently we discussed how kindness leads to connection and how connection or affiliation is a motivator for some of your team members.  While NOT everyone on your team is motivated by affiliation, those who are can in turn motivate others by supporting them by recognizing their accomplishments.

Naturally this leads to questions such as “How do I enact a policy of kindness?” Or, “How do I teach people to be kind?”  You will not be surprised to learn that practicing kindness starts with you. Yes, this is another opportunity to lead by example.

It is easier to feel kindness for others when you feel a connection to them. YOUR first step is to get to know your team members. Create some bonds with them. Learn about them and remember to ask them about things that matter to them. Do not sit them down and interview them and ask intrusive questions about their personal lives. But if you see a picture of their children on their desk or as their screensaver or wallpaper, ask about their children. In future conversations follow up, “How is Amy enjoying law school?” “Did the first day or preschool go well for Jenny?”

Timing is key. You do not want to blurt out, “Did you finish your Halloween costume?” in the middle of a status meeting. During pre-meeting warm up chitchat or when you stop by to talk to your employee, those are the times to have these connecting conversations. As you build your connections with your team members it will be easier for you to feel kindly toward them. And if the answer is, “No I am still working on the Halloween Costume.” If no critical milestones are jeopardized, you might just give this team member the afternoon off.

You also want to build opportunities for team connections to be established and strengthened. When a team member goes through a difficult time, for example; a prolonged illness for themselves or a family member, this is a time to build connections.  The rest of you can work together to lend support to this person during a difficult time. You can band together to divide up their work, you can pitch in and help bring them premade meals or offer after hours support. There are so many activities you and the team can participate in that show that you care. Being kind to others makes MOST of us feel good and it inspires us to engage in even more kind acts.

You do not wait for a team member to experience personal hardship in order to practice connectedness and kindness. You have many connecting opportunities provided to you by difficult stakeholders, impossible deadlines and challenging project requirements. During these situations, encourage group work, group discussion sessions and allow for some group venting. Encourage active support of team members during this time. You model this support by helping out anyway you can. Maybe it means you provide catering to the team working overtime. Maybe you stop by and have them talk a five minute ‘silly’ break – tossing around a nerf ball or holding an impromptu ‘who tells the best joke’ contest.

In team meetings you can add discussion and language that shows that as a team kindness is part of your culture. At the end of the meeting, ask each team member to describe if/how they felt supported during the past week. Allow them the opportunity to pass and allow them the opportunity to say they did not feel supported and why. Then as a team you can discuss how that person can feel better supported during the next week.

You will need to facilitate the above discussion very carefully and set some good ground rules. This is not about blame or finger pointing or making excuses for missing deadlines. It is about creating a culture of support and about encouraging acts of kindness.

If you are not ready to have team members discuss the kindness and support they have experienced at work, perhaps include ‘a random acts’ of kindness discussion.  Encourage the team to share stories of acts of kindness they witnessed, or learned about. You might take turns and assign two people to work together to bring in the kindness story of the week. They do not need to spend time putting together flashy presentations they just need to bring an example. This encourages you and your team members to be on the lookout for kindness. This also prompts all of you to engage in kind acts.

Finally, you and your team can adopt a cause. You do not coerce or force people to donate their time and money or support a specific charity, but you can see if there is a cause that as a team you are comfortable adopting. Team members can volunteer, hold a fundraiser or share communications and raise awareness about the cause. Everyone can find his or her way to participate and all participation should be appreciated.

How should you get started? Perhaps share this posting with your team and see what they think. Ask them about what would help them feel more connected and supported. I bet they have many ideas that you and I have not even touched upon.

Now share with the rest of us, how do YOU teach your teams to be kind?

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