Mirror, Mirror: Connecting Dots, Building Bridges


By Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP

When I reach for a glass of water with you watching,  in a sense we are sharing that glass of water.  Through the activation of special cells called mirror neurons, the same neural circuitry lights up in your brain as in mine.  According to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, that is because ‘mirror neurons (seem) to be the brain’s mechanisms for understanding other people’s intent – their goals and objectives – and, as a result, feeling connected to them’ (p. 159).

We have a fundamental need to belong. Rock goes onto say that a feeling of relatedness is a primary reward for the brain and that ‘(t)he one thing that makes people happy is the quality and quantity of their social connections’. Abraham Maslow famously called social belonging one of the primary needs to realize toward self-actualization.

In a recent article for Bloomberg Businessweek, Chris Kuenne says that ‘to maximize individual and company performance, you need to create a culture in which everyone feels part of and connected to it’. He offers several lessons in achieving this, including the need to share values as a way to ‘build bridges across the functional and cultural divides’ – and creating a common corporate identity, so that ‘all workers feel that they are working for the same cause, the same company’.

These examples and recommendations point to our fundamental need to belong. Without first addressing this need, we are working backwards and away from a sustainable core that can drive our collective objectives. 

Too often we place emphasis on local needs: bettering processes, increasing production of materials and meeting sales targets. What we need to do is focus on the global issues, namely creating an environment which nurtures connectivity and gives its people a place to call their own. This can be done by creating and reinforcing a sense of belonging through an identity, based on shared values and beliefs. The rest – productivity, engagement and efficiencies – will become a product of this sustainable core of belongingness and connectedness.

We can begin by assessing the core values and beliefs which drive us to perform. These are the things which motivate us intrinsically (Daniel Pink, among a growing company of others, endorses this ‘third drive’ as the force behind truly great work). These values and beliefs are the things that make you say “that’s the right way to do it”. 

Similarly, we should be asking what makes the team we belong to unique. That is, what makes us better at offering that service or product than the group down the street? This type of thinking will help build an identity, a sense of belongingness and connectedness – the lifeblood of the core which will drive our organizations forward.

The goals and objectives teams and organizations face are all about connecting the dots. Can you relate?

Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP, is the membership and CHRP administrator at BC HRMA. After several gruelling years in school, Nilesh graduated in October 2010 from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, First Class Honours. He majored in Human Resources Management and tacked on an extended minor in Psychology. He’s a self-confessed nerd (the first step is admitting), likes to read, loves hockey and is struggling with the complexities of learning the game of golf.

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