the ceo magazine, managing teams,
Jonathan Whistman, Author, The Sales Boss: The Real Secret to Hiring Training and Managing a Sales Team

Any business leader understands that their results depend largely on a team of people and the quality of efforts made by those people.  The greatest leaders however, understand people’s inherent need to belong and leverage this insight into human behavior.  Think of sport teams, religions, and political parties.  People pride themselves on being a part of something bigger than themselves and identifying with a group.  No matter the type of group there are always three aspects that maximize a person’s feeling of belonging: a unique insider language, rituals and having a common enemy.  Let’s consider each of these.

A Unique Insider Language

Every group has a language that is particular to that group.  It might include acronyms only understood if you are in the industry, a team cheer or fight song, or certain behaviors.  Inside any group there are language cues that tell people who understand the cues that they are on the inside. The greatest leaders understand this and intentionally create insider language.  What areas of language are unique to your team?  Do you understand the subtle bonding power of labeling things in a way that makes them unique to your company? You’ll see companies that label their conference rooms after key people or events that have happened in the history of the company.  You become an insider as you learn these stories and the significance of the “labels” that have been applied to the rooms.  In other companies, you might notice that the names of the meetings are centered on a theme.  In one of my companies, we had a Friday afternoon meeting that came to be known as “Fractivity”, because it always included a fun group activity.  It became so powerful as a bonding tool that the marketing department got in the habit of creating fun posters advertising the upcoming Fractivity.


The most powerful sense of belonging comes from rituals.  Think of holidays that mark family or religious tradition and the emotional tie that comes from the accumulation of experiences at these rituals.  Understanding the rituals of an organization tells people they belong and that they are home.  What are the rituals of your team?  Even small rituals have an impact.  For instance at Amazon Fulfillment Centers each meeting is started with the sharing of a safety tip.  You’d know that if you belonged!  In another company, team members were taught to walk the halls and say “hello” to everyone when they arrived at the office each day and again when leaving to say “goodbye”.  Nobody would dream of just showing up and hiding out in their office all day.  This ritual created a unique sense of belonging and a culture of human kindness.  The greatest leaders spend time and intention creating rituals.

Having a Common Enemy

In sports, it might be the other team and, in business, another company. Nothing gives a more powerful sense of belonging than having an enemy.  Give your team someone or something to fight and you’ll be amazed at the energy level and skill they will bring to the table. It is a fact that nothing bonds a group more quickly than being against something.  It is even more powerful than being for something.  John Legere, T-Mobiles CEO, is an extreme example of this.  Known as the “bad boy of telecom,” he is often outspoken, calling his competitors “lame” and engaging in public twitter battles with the leaders of the competition. He took to calling his company the “un-carrier” and declared war on his rivals. The results are impressive.  His market share grew 14% faster than his competition.  Who or what is your team’s enemy?  How good are you at describing that enemy?

Adopt these three powerful tactics of the greatest leaders for harnessing the need for people to belong and watch as the results of your team skyrockets!

[Image courtesy: 드림포유]

About the Author

Jonathan Whistman  is the author of  ‘The Sales Boss: The Real Secret to Hiring Training and Managing a Sales Team'.  He is the Senior Partner at Elevate Human Potential (link to and believes the greatest business results come from elevating the potential of individuals.


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