What Valentine's Day Can Teach Us About Building Great Teams

It’s Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate that most supreme of human emotions – love. It’s also the day when rampant commercialization of romantic love steps into overdrive. Regardless of your feelings towards this holiday, it’s a perfect time to talk about (positive) emotions.

What Valentine's Day Can Teach Us About Building Great Teams

Valentine’s Day — the day when romantic lovers spend time with the people that make them the happiest. In short, Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate important romantic relationships. The relationships we hold in our lives can bring us sublime happiness, extreme unhappiness or something in between.

Unfortunately, our work relationships are often a source of unhappiness. Recent data on unhappiness at work reports people are unhappy for 30% of the time they are at work. This number rises to 40% when they spend time with their boss. Time spent with co-workers isn’t pleasant either with 28% of the time spent with them reported as unhappy.

Compare that to only 13% of time spent with friends and 15% with family and there’s a problem, especially considering how much time we spend at work each day. On an average 8-hour day, almost 2 ½ hours is spent unhappy. Some of that can’t be helped – we can’t always pick our bosses and co-workers, but it’s not a good way to live life.

While the office isn’t usually the right place to express romantic love, in order to build better teams, it is good to recognize that people thrive in a positive atmosphere. To understand this, the concept of love is a good place to start. 

At the heart of love is the idea of reciprocity – not only the shared experience but also the way that experiences build on each other. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson calls this “positivity resonance” – a virtuous cycle where behaviours build upon each other in a positive way. You like being around your significant other because they make you smile, laugh, or happy. You enter a relationship because you had an excellent first, second or third date. In short, positive experiences lead to us trusting the other person and they, in return, trust us. 

When we’re seeking to build great teams at work, then this cycle of positive experience building upon subsequent positive experience is critical. People like to work with others that they enjoy being around, and they will like being around them if there are shared positive experiences. It follows closely the idea of "psychological safety" at work – the idea that a team can be a safe space to speak and make mistakes.

Positive Emotions

In many ways, love includes elements of the whole range of positive emotions. From the quieter emotions like contentment, peacefulness and serenity to the energetic feelings of joy, enthusiasm, wonder and awe, positive emotions motivate and energize us to behave in specific ways.

One of the critical differences that neuroscientists identify between emotion and cognition is that emotion is always connected with bodily experiences, not just brain function. They ready us to act in the world. In the workplace, the action is getting work done. How we motivate ourselves and our teams to perform is tied to emotions, and happy emotions lead us to do high quality work.

Emotions are a crucial part of our evolutionary history – they have helped us to survive and thrive through the millennia. They are highly functional and responsive, enabling us to navigate changes in our environment. Emotions such as fear and anger are often referred to as negative emotions as they help us deal with threats and are related to our fight and flight mechanism – an essential part of our drive to survive. Whereas positive emotions help us thrive by creating and seizing opportunities. For example, enthusiasm is a mobilizing energy that we can use to seize an opportunity. Curiosity is about exploring so we can broaden our opportunities, and our understanding of the world. Interest is about focus, helping us to understand more about our world.  

Love in the Workplace

Love is often considered the supreme human emotion, the pinnacle of human experience. While romantic love is what Valentine’s Day celebrates, there are two aspects of love that psychologists identify and are particularly relevant to the workplace: nurturant love and affiliative love

Nurturant love is supportive and challenging. It’s essential for growth. The most common example of this is the love a parent may feel for a child. In the workplace, it might look like mentoring a new employee.

Affiliative love is appreciative, caring and interested – the type of love you need to build bonds with friends. In the workplace it helps us connect to our colleagues. It can be a kind word, a note of appreciation or gratitude.  

Both of these kinds of love are essential to building relationships with other people, and especially within our teams. 

How to Bring Love to the Team

So, how do you apply love and positive emotions to the workplace? Here are some ideas of things you can do. 

Take a Genuine Interest

The first step in building a relationship is to be interested in who they are, what they say and what they are interested in. This rule applies to all relationships, regardless of their nature. 

Relationships are normally built on common ground first, and that means relating to your team members. When team members talk about their personal life, or their significant other, show interest. For most people, life outside of work is the most fulfilling part of their lives. Relating to someone on the things that bring them the most joy, not only removes the barrier between a leader and a team member but also builds a bond. 

Taking interest encourages others to open up and trust. Building on that idea of reciprocity, sharing your own interests is a way to encourage your team to trust you as well. In this way, both parties become more human, and more relatable.

Build a Place of Safety

At Friday, we talk extensively about employee voice and developing an open relationship between employers and employees. That’s because it is critical in creating an environment of trust. Honesty about work expectations, listening to concerns, and taking steps to make the work experience better are effective ways of building trust. 

But that environment doesn’t always have to be serious. Trust is built in many ways. Sometimes it’s a shared joke or a good laugh at a funny YouTube video. Laughter, amusement, enjoyment are potent emotions in building friendships and are an essential part of a team relationship. It’s perfectly fine to take a little time-out, because these periods can strengthen the bond of the team and increase productivity in the long run.

We believe that leaders need to be able to facilitate their teams in an emotionally agile way. While teams need to be grounded and focused, the work environment can also be a positive, supportive one. Building a strong team is about reciprocity, the giving and taking that is associated with the concept of love, and the agility to move between the full range of emotions.