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A Leader's Guide to Driving 'Belonging': The missing piece of the retention puzzle.

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

  • How do you escalate the sense of ‘Belonging’ in a team?

  • How do you build loyalty?

  • What makes people feel valued?

  • How do you create trusted relationships?

Once someone has decided to leave, no amount of extra money or benefits will likely be enough to make them stay. Their mind has already been made up, they’ve been through the interview process elsewhere, they've been offered the job, they've visualised a new life, very little is likely to pull them back.

So, how do you stop people getting to this stage? How do you create a culture on your team which gives people little motivation to look elsewhere? How do you create relationships and a culture which elicits loyalty, greater on-the-job effort and higher employee happiness?

Belonging: A felt sense of being part of a safe inclusive community where people feel happy and valued.
Have you ever stayed in a job for far too long just because you were happy there? It felt like a family, right? That’s the ‘Belonging’ bit.

This subject is big. There’s easily a thesis or two I could write. Today, I’ll just run you through a whistle stop tour of the main factors that leaders can work on to drive that sense of ‘Belonging’ in their teams.


Does everyone feel fully included? Are some people informed of things that their colleagues aren't? Are there cliques which divide people? Do some people feel like outsiders? Is anyone ‘left out’ in the team? What’s not being said? What happens under the waterline?

Strengths based approach

Are people's strengths well known? Are they celebrated? Do you know everyone's superpowers? Are people put onto the projects which bring out the best in them and put them in ‘flow’?

Psychological Safety & Trust

Do people feel comfortable admitting when they make a mistake in the team? Is it easy to ask for help or share a ‘crazy idea’?

Collaboration & Contribution

Does everyone feel that they are ‘allowed’ to talk and share ideas with everyone in the organisation? Regardless of level or department? Are there any barriers? Do things feel open and friendly? Can people easily contribute to projects which aren’t officially in their ‘remit’?

Emotional Intelligence

Do you know what makes you tick? What supports the best version of you and what depletes you? Can you regulate your own emotions? Do you know this information about others on the team? Are you aware of the impact you have on others and how best to convey yourself in lots of different situations? Can you show empathy? Do you know how to tap into the motivation of others on your team?


Both informal and formal recognition is important. Acknowledge what people have contributed, show appreciation. Not just on an internal system, say it to them, even better (if they’re someone who’s ok with it), say it in front of their peers. Don’t just acknowledge the thing they have done, also talk about why it’s great and what benefits it has created.

Valued for who they are

Not just what they do. Is the whole package of a person celebrated? Or just tolerated for the role they do? We’ve all got quirks and areas for development, it’s part of being human. As an individual, outside of their role are they shown that they are liked and valued?

Welcomed and wanted

How do you make people feel when they join a meeting? Or walk into the office? What if someone asks you to join them for lunch? If your flight was delayed, would you happily share drinks with them through choice? Whilst you can’t control what others do, as a leader you role model ‘warmth’ and gestures, you set the bar on behaviours by the way you are.

Part of the Tribe

This is about friendships, comradery, allyships. Are you part of a group united by certain values, attitudes and priorities? Has everyone got friendships within the organisation?


How do you talk about someone behind their backs, when they are not in the room or meeting? Do you promote them? Do they promote you? Whilst this is a key driver of trust and team psychological safety, it deserves a special mention as a separate factor. How do people talk about the organisation to people outside of it? Are they proud of it? What would make them proud? How can you drive their pride up?

Wellbeing First

This is about genuinely caring for someone as a fellow human and putting their wellbeing first before anything else. It’s hard when there are pressures and deadlines but if you want the loyalty reward, it’s an important piece of the 'Belonging recipe'.


When someone does something nice for us, we feel indebted to that person and compelled to do something nice for them in return. Even if they did that nice act out of the kindness of their heart, we still feel indebted until we pay it back. We often refer to this as ‘people points’, they are a powerful tool in creating relationship and interpersonal dynamics. N.B. Our Sales Relationships programme deep dives on this.

Supported through challenges

50% of people who don’t feel supported throughout a period of change or challenge will leave their organisation. Most of us have just been through a period of challenge during the pandemic. Were you there for them when things got tough? Did you put their wellbeing first? Were you flexible for them during their hour of need? If you weren’t, or if you were on paper, but there was a ‘felt sense’ that you weren’t 100%, then this could be the catalyst for them to leave once their period of challenge is over. The people who feel genuinely supported, are the ones who are more likely to stay, more likely to work late to meet that deadline, more likely to happily complete tasks outside of the remit of their job roles. They will go the extra mile, if you’ve proven that you are there for them.

Healthy Conflict

This means that everyone (regardless of level), can comfortably speak up and say something contrary to what other people have expressed. It is a High Performance Team indicator and fundamental to psychological safety. As a leader, how do you ensure that everyone has a voice and they are welcomed and encouraged to use it?


Are you honestly showing up as a full human, faults and all? Are people aware of some of your darkest hours? Do you share your mistakes? Stiff upper lips are so 80's.

Listening & Learning

In your one-to-one’s and meetings, who does the most talking? Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing to say. Are you able to benefit from the wisdom of everyone in your team? Are you facilitating their thinking through questions and active listening? Not just listening to the words, also reading the non-verbal communication?

Advanced Communication Awareness

Are you aware of your impact vs intent gap? Are others in your team aware of theirs? Are you mindful of your non-verbal communication? Are there unhelpful pockets of parent-child (TA) communication on your team?

Certainty & Transparency

Are there secrets in your organisation? Are there things which are discussed in the boardroom which most people don’t know about? Are there lots of closed door meetings? Do people feel secure in their roles? Do they know where the organisation is heading? How much gossip is there?


All of these factors drive that 'felt sense' of Belonging. It’s not an overnight job. Just like trust, it is built over time and through experience. Anecdotes and stories act like a ‘back up’ to the experience someone has today. They are the historical tales of evidence that 'Belonging factors' exist on your team.

  • What stories about your organisation are circulating?

  • Do they drive 'Belonging' up or down?

  • What new stories would demonstrate that your organisation is a great place to work in?

  • If you rated your team leadership and team vibe (culture) against each of these 'Belonging factors', where would you fall short?

  • What new actions might drive these belonging factors up?

If you’d like to find out more about our Build & Boost Belonging Leadership Development programme, we are running a free intro workshop in partnership with Menzies LLP on September 20th 2022 at 9.30am. You can book your space here or alternatively drop an email over to, to discuss creating a bespoke programme for your organisation.


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