We live and work in a divided society. Even if you choose to surround yourself with likeminded people, you are still likely to be exposed to those with differing viewpoints on a daily basis, whether online or in person. This is even more true in the workplace, where you have less control over who you interact with. While differing viewpoints on society’s most controversial issues understandably leads to tension, members of a workforce must continue to work together towards a common goal. In the following, we will explore ways to promote a workplace culture marked by unity.
First, it is important to clarify what we mean by unity. Unity does not mean always thinking the same. We know that diverse perspectives and experiences allow workforces to solve challenges, innovate, and reach new markets. Instead, unity means working together towards a common goal and creating a shared sense of belonging.
The Gallup article, “3 Ways Managers Can Unite a Divided Workplace,” by Ben Wigert states, “The best solution to combating divisiveness among team members is uniting them around a shared purpose – a mission they can all get behind.” If your shared purpose is unclear, now is the time to have what Wigert refers to as a “team reset,” that is, “a time for your team to step back and reimagine what they want to be known for and how they will best work together going forward.” Every organization will have a different shared purpose, but common themes include innovation, safety, providing care, and supporting customers.
Similarly to uniting around a shared purpose, it is important for organizations to develop a corporate identity and culture that respects diverse views and experiences while bringing people together. The GreenBiz article, “Societal division could lead to division at work, but it doesn’t have to,” points out that companies have the benefit of shared values and culture, which can allow for more unity than what is seen in society as a whole. The article argues, “American culture has not been intentionally managed. No one can agree on its values. The absence of shared values erodes a sense of collective identity and pride.”
Conversely, businesses have the ability to shape their culture. They can choose and reinforce their values in all that they do. The SHRM article, “Don’t Let Division Lead to Workplace Dysfunction,” by Howard Ross states, “Having a powerful and positive organizational narrative around belonging and the value of diversity, and frequently communicating and reinforcing that narrative, produces a story that employees can repeat, reflect on and internalize. It allows everyone to see himself or herself as part of a team and helps to override polarities from individual viewpoints.”
So, how exactly do you create a positive workplace culture that fosters a sense of belonging?
One of the best ways to do this is by prioritizing interpersonal relationships. In the Gallup article, referenced above, Wigert argues that while it is natural to shy away from difficult conversations or to tell people to just focus on work, “managers would be well-advised to lean further into the interpersonal part of managing to deepen team bonds and strengthen engagement.” People need to feel heard and appreciated as individuals, not just employees.
The aforementioned SHRM article also highlights the importance of interpersonal relationships, recommending that organizations “Create opportunities for dialogue across groups in the workplace,” “Encourage employees to share their own stories,” and “Acknowledge everyone’s individual contribution.” The article states, “It’s incredibly valuable to engage with people with different points of view, but it’s essential that this happen as dialogue rather than debate.” Discussing personal experiences and differences allows members of a team to feel seen and heard while also considering the perspective of others.
Acknowledging everyone’s individual contributions allows team members to focus on the importance of working together. Speaking to the importance of employee recognition, Wigert states, “it points to the ways that we, as a team, have already transcended our divisions to achieve what we could not have done alone.”
While differing beliefs, viewpoints, and experiences have led to societal division, it is also this diversity that leads to innovation, creativity, and problem solving. Members of a diverse workforce can overcome division by uniting around a shared purpose and by honoring a workplace culture that allows all individuals to be heard, respected, and valued.
Sometimes the cause of unity requires a difficult conversation with an employee. Learn how do to that here.