Invigorating the Workplace Though Connections

May 28, 2014

Terry Kosdrosky

Ever feel invigorated after an interaction with a co-worker — energized and confident to take on a challenge?

That feeling is real, the benefits are real, and companies need to do more to create these high-quality connections, says Michigan Ross Professor Jane Dutton.

Her research shows that interacting with others in ways that foster high quality connections at work does more than improve morale. It improves creativity, commitment, learning, and engagement. Organizations that figure out how to foster these interactions bring out the best in their teams and achieve better results.

“These short, momentary interactions with people at work are like vitamins — they strengthen and fortify you throughout your day,” says Dutton, the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology. “The good news is that these connections don’t take a lot of time to build. They happen quickly, and small gestures pay big dividends.”

Dutton makes the case for these connections in a chapter in the new book, How to be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact, that she edited with fellow Michigan Ross Professor Gretchen Spreitzer.

Business leaders need to take some time from their busy schedules to make high-quality connections themselves, and create a system so they happen for others. Dutton says it’s time the corporate world takes seriously what the evidence shows — these connections bring out the individual and collective best.

The first thing a leader should do is make his or her own high-quality connections. This involves giving people a precious resource — time — and listening to others with respect. Another step is “task enabling,” such as facilitating networks to help people perform at their tasks and making sure they have the resources to do a job.

The most difficult step, she says, is trusting others. Sometimes, it’s not easy for leaders to assign challenging tasks, provide resources, and then avoid over-monitoring and controlling.

How does a leader make connection-building routine for the organization? Reward it. Tying a portion of employee incentives to collective performance is one way, as are peer-controlled awards. The way new employees are brought on board also is a place to foster connections. Finally, model the behavior.

“Leaders set the tone in terms of values and priorities,” Dutton says. “If they tap into the power of high-quality connections, others will see this as important and something to be valued.”