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Get closer. Why attachment theory matters at work.

Voco Team

Creating a great team culture is never as easy as we think it’s going to be. It has little to do with putting a drinks fridge in the office (though of course nice perks like this can help), it has everything to do with attachment. When you are coming back together - either virtually, in-person or a combination of both - after a lull in the regular routine then pulling on some of the ties that already bind you, can make all the difference.

How attachment works, at work

The psychological theory of attachment is most commonly used to refer to the relationships we form in early childhood with our parents or care-givers. As the theory goes, the better the relationship - safe, reliable, loving and consistent  - the stronger the attachment. The stronger the attachment, the more balanced and mature the child will grow up to be.

For us grown-ups (however ‘grown-up we turn out to be), the need to attach does not fade with time. The blueprint for our attachment style was set in childhood and our desire to feel connected to the people in our lives is ever present. Our places of work are where we form some of our most powerful adult attachments.

So, the question for those looking to create a cohesive, productive and positive team culture shouldn’t be, ‘how do I create attachment’, rather, ‘how do I foster healthy attachment’; a team culture that is safe, supportive and invites a sense of belonging that is present even during periods of home-working or annual leave.

Good vibes only

Healthy attachment can’t be manipulated. Drawing people in with false promises or feigning connection doesn’t work. It’s why those departmental team building residentials were fun but, ultimately, did nothing for moral or team cohesion. When it comes to attachment, we are not so easily fooled.

So, how can we build a team culture that is powered by healthy attachment when we are time poor and, increasingly, see so little of the people in our team? Like all good psychological concepts, attachment starts from within. How you approach your relationships at work will have a huge impact on how they evolve. Giving everyone the gift of, as Carl Rogers put it, ‘your unconditional positive regard’ forms the foundation of healthy attachment. Simply put, if you assume the best in people and treat them thus, they will rise to meet your expectations. The converse, as we intuitively know, is also true.

Of course, just thinking positively about someone won’t have any effect. As ever, it’s our actions that make all the difference. How often do we ask for the opinions of people in our teams? How often do we show our team members that we value them - either with positive or usefully constructive feedback? How often do we take their ideas and suggestions on board and give them due credit? If people know that they are valued then their loyalty is won because their natural inclination to attach is being nurtured, not rejected.

This doesn’t mean that people won’t ever leave. Conversely, the sense of support and safety might well give them the confidence to move on. But, it does mean that we get the best of people while they are working with us and that they are likely to extend their own positive regard to others, including those in positions of authority. It’s a self-fulfilling process that perpetuates the good feeling, generosity and cohesion that is needed to get through the tougher times.

Enduring attachment

Healthily attached teams are strong teams, but that doesn’t mean that the attachment can be taken for granted. After any period of change, distance or separation, teams should be ‘collected’. To collect is to reconnect and reaffirm the importance of the team and the relationships within it. It doesn’t matter how much work there is to do or how pressing the priorities, if team culture isn’t tended to first then the team will not regain their full potential. They will be less engaged and the quality of attachment will suffer.

To collect a team could be as easy as booking in regular catch-up calls or as time consuming as running a series of in-person meetings to share progress and plan for the times ahead. It all depends on the current quality of attachment and how disrupted they have been. The good news is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel - all the usual positive social interactions can be used to collect a team. Open, honest and respectful communication will always work because it increases a sense of belonging and community which, ultimately, is what attachment at work is all about.

At Voco, we believe in the power of attachment and we know how important it is for everyone to have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships at work. If you would like to find out more, book a free demo today.

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