Belonging - Notes

The general philosophy of the book is that over our evolutionary history we have developed lots of pro-social cultural habits that have allowed us to work in collaborative groups. Understanding that ancient wisdom can offer plenty of insights into how we might build better teams, organizations and cultures now. The question is ‘What is the optimal environment for this group to perform to their best?

‘we inherit a legacy, we extract meaning from it. If we are beginning a new venture, then we shape our genesis story with intent. Our deeds will be an expression of the identity we build.

Whakappa is a mauri concept that connects you to those who have gone before and asks of you what will you do for the good of the tribe?

‘Ideas like whakapapa are highly practical tools for us to build strong teams, they also have a powerful spiritual dimension. They explicitly connect us to something greater than ourselves.’

We all have an innate desire to belong and fit in to the group. ‘Isolation or rejection from a group spelled premature death – those two states still terrify the hell out of us’.

‘Belonging is never a state that is permanently achieved. It is something we continually monitor and evaluate. Consistency in environment and the behaviour of those around us are key. Ambiguity or mixed signalling seriously elevate anxiety’.

‘When our need to belong in a team is met, our energy and focus pour into the team’s shared mission.’ So this becomes a necessary pre-condition

‘When you feel excluded you feel your purpose has been taken away’.

As is so often the case, this unmet need to belong led directly to failure.

In Māori culture, a word for leader is rangatira, which itself consists of two words – raranga, meaning to weave, and tira, meaning a group, so rangatira literally means ‘to weave a group of people together’.

We are inducted into processes but not the tribe.

A colonisation of belonging by an established few who enjoy status and power is common across groups and teams. Often, those pockets of power come from a dominant clique (status, class, gender, race, religion, education, schooling) and their view of the world becomes the default setting for the group.

The induction is the most critical time as an individual has their mind most open to this new experience. They are in a highly receptive state that enables them to learn about their new tribe and absorb its beliefs and values.

The undertaking of rituals also facilitates an emotional connection to new team members that further deepens belonging, reduces anxiety and enhances the conditions for deep trust.

Storytelling fuels the super strength of homo sapiens – our ability to form tightly bound groups. (

Eighty per cent of stories in modern hunter-gatherer societies are about how people should behave in the tribe.

In building strong teams, leaders need to understand that people are highly tuned to receive the story of Us.

Of all the factors that we assessed in our research, the one that makes the biggest difference in how well a senior leadership team performs is the clarity of the behavioural norms that guide members’ interaction.

Only one in four employees either have a strong belief in their organisation’s values or apply them in their daily work.

These different models for influencing behaviour were publicly on display at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Both New Zealand and England had players breach behavioural standards during the tournament. The All Blacks’ approach to dealing with this was for the two players concerned to meet with senior players and explain their behaviour. They were then directed to address the team and apologise. The team itself decided an appropriate sanction. The matter was resolved internally in twenty-four hours without formal processes. The most severe punishment was the shaming that ensued for not meeting the team’s archetype of what it was to be an All Black. In contrast, the three England players concerned were charged with a breach of the rules and summoned to a disciplinary hearing in London weeks later. After a formal hearing the players were found ‘guilty’ by a judge figure and punished. They were mobbed by the media as they left the hearing. Two different ways of regulating behaviour: one through values, the other through rules.

When our Us story is weak, we are weak.

Our primal need for an identity story means that when it is untold by our leaders then that vacuum will be filled by another version. There is always a storyline attached to what we are doing in teams.

‘Over the whole of my England career, within the dressing room there was never any mention of the team’s history, nor what it was to be English.’ It was about the how without the what and why.

There, a gloved expert on English monarchs brought out to me the first seal of the three lions. It was from 1197 when King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) had made the Anjou family coat of arms the emblem for England.

I was told how the lions represented both leading and taking care of others, as well as fearlessness and ferocity.

I understood that we only get better by learning from past experiences, both good and bad. That progress is an iterative process,

Our most powerful form of motivation is a collective, rather than personal, cause.

Iconic organisational psychologist Edgar Schein puts it plainly: ‘The word and concept of ‘purpose’ comes out of psychology. I have learned that most of what comes out of psychology is kind of useless in this human arena. I’m a psychologist, so I’m entitled to say that. But the psychologists have never learned that everything that goes on inside motivation, purpose, and so on is based on a culture, a group, a tribe . . .’

The Latin origin of the word ‘compete’ involves ‘striving together’.

The definition of spirituality has two limbs. First, an individual connecting to a purpose greater than their own. Second, profound emotional communion between people.

Even for those who do not consider themselves ‘spiritual’ in a conventional sense, creating a successful team . . . is essentially a spiritual act. It requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum parts.51

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. Ubuntu.

Studies have reported that only 3 per cent of leaders’ time today is spent on visioning but that three in four workers expect their leaders to paint pictures of the future.

First, a gap between higher purpose and current reality was identified.

We will spend most of our time previewing how we want to deliver our performance and then a small but important amount of time on scenarios previewing adversity.

‘A leader is a dealer in hope’. Napoleon Bonaparte

Cliques are natural and not in themselves good or bad. Their potential harm depends on the wider dynamics.

A key aspect of status is that although we perceive our own position, it is the group that ultimately determines it.

Dacher Keltner states, Reputations are amplifiers of the capacity to influence.

Studies of modern social groups concur that most prestige is acquired by individuals that display a high-level mix of both competence and selfless commitment to the group.

Our anxiety levels are reduced when we know our leaders will put the interests of the group before their own, and they will not needlessly put us at risk through their recklessness or belligerence.

Groups demonstrate an instinctive tendency to give power to individuals who bring the greatest benefit and least harm to individuals.

Bob feels passionately that leaders, particularly inexperienced ones, need external support in understanding team dynamics and developing their own leadership framework.

French behavioural psychologist Eric Blondeau: ‘Trust is an emotional state, not a rational calculation. We look for evidence in others to alleviate fear and reduce stress.’

What we say and what we do are the same. At the heart of this is integrity

Human eyes serve two key functions in face-to-face social interactions: they provide cues about a person’s emotional state and attentional focus.

American leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith has a saying: Leadership is a contact sport. So much truth in that.

As Robert Sapolsky puts it: Like so many other animals, we have an often frantic need to conform, belong and obey . . . When we discover we are out of step with everyone else, our amygdalae spasm with anxiety, our memories are revised, and our sensory processing regions are even pressured to experience what is not true. All to fit in.

If a team truly aspires to be high performing, they have to find a way to get good at feedback, challenge sub-standard behaviours and address issues that are ‘slowing the boat down’.

‘The most important component of accelerating growth is changing someone’s relationship with feedback.’

Players don’t remember what you say in team talks or practices – what they do remember is how you made them feel. Sir Alf Ramsey (manager of 1966 England World Cup winning football team)

Michael Gervais defines optimism as a mindset of ‘something good is about to happen’.

‘I’ve never seen someone stick to positive habits in a consistent fashion in a negative environment.

Every day the environment is intentionally primed to instil energy, optimism and psychological safety.