Facebook, Twitter, and all the social-media giants have successfully tapped into a basic human need: attention. We often hear about the "attention economy," where companies profit when thousands of people park their attention on one of their click-hungry platforms.
What we don't talk about as much is the attention these platforms give back to all those people, many of whom turn to social media to combat feelings of loneliness. Loneliness, recent research shows, can be as damaging to your health as obesity or smoking. Research also shows that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise.
In our teams and workplaces, this is craziness. Whether you work all together in the office, work from home, or call in from around the world, you are working with other people. In the workplace we still have teams of people assembled together all the time. There's no reason we can't use some of this time to build bonds of attention and fight off the encroaching loneliness that threatens our collective well-being.
Beyond improving the health of individuals, investing in team relationships is good business. In their ongoing studies on employee engagement, HR software company ADP found that teams that form strong relationships outperform other teams.
Further, in the book Nine Lies About Work, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall point out that it's not more feedback that helps people succeed--it's more attention:
"Positive attention is 30 times more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team."
But how can you go about encouraging the kind of meaningful conversations that give everyone positive attention? How can you start to form bonds where they haven't sprung up on their own? Your team may or may not be fertile ground for deep relationships, but it's hard to know until you plant the seed.
Lucky for us, several companies figured out that it's much easier to get people talking when you make a game of it. Here are three card decks designed to encourage real conversations. You can bring them to a team meeting and play for the first 10 minutes, or set aside an hour one afternoon.
"After running a series of five scientific studies, we've discovered a specific set of practical, yet rarely-asked questions that 83 percent of people reported were valuable for them to answer and that 78 percent said they would recommend to others. A remarkably high 88 percent of people even reported that they enjoyed answering these questions.
If you work on a remote team, you can also explore this nerdy awesomeness together using an online form.
Vulnerability Is Sexy
The questions on these cards come with an official rule book, creating a more traditional gameplay feel. Rules to follow make the experience less awkward for a skeptical team, especially the rule that says a player can trade in a question they don't want to answer.
From the website:
"Vulnerability Is Sexy deepens trust, forms unbreakable bonds, and invites the magic of connection into personal and professional relationships. With three levels of game questions, players meet the game where they choose: break the ice, get vulnerable, or laugh a little. The core value cards, combined with rules against cross talk, and play action that is randomly determined by the game, all support a level of listening to one another that we don't frequently feel in life."
I've played Vulnerability Is Sexy with my team and during workshops, and I'm always surprised by how quickly most people shake off their skepticism and get involved. The game can become a bit addictive, so it's important to set a time limit.
Vertellis seeks to help people form offline connections, where we step away from our screens and have meaningful conversations. To make this easy in casual settings, they offer a set of conversation-starting coasters.
If you're not yet ready to devote dedicated meeting time to any of this, consider planting the seed by placing Vertellis coasters throughout your meeting space. Each coaster includes a single intriguing question designed to inspire meaningful conversation.
Will your team find all these cards with their pre-canned questions cheesy? At first, very possibly yes.
Is that a risk worth taking? If we risk a bit of ego-bruising in an effort to combat rampant loneliness, disengagement, and the lackluster performance that comes with them, I say it's worth it.