Spark #

Build and Design Belonging

Building safety isn't the kind of skill you can learn in a robotic, paint by numbers sort of way. It's a fluid, improvisational skill…and like any skill, it comes with a learning curve.

Spark #
Build and Design Belonging
What We're Talking About

The principle we're discussing

(From left) Sean Elliott, Popovich, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs pose with the Larry O’Brien Trophy after defeating the New York Knicks in Game 5 to win the 1999 NBA championship.

What do San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich and Zappos founder Tony Hsieh have in common? (No, this isn’t a random joke, but we think you’ll appreciate the payoff). They’re both really good at creating a sense of belonging. And their culture is key to their success.  

Popovich is known for his candidness and high standards, which he balances by investing time and energy into each player. His leadership approach helps players feel seen, safe, and included, which allows him to speak directly without alienating anyone. 

In short, he’s mastered the art of magical feedback, i.e. feedback that includes connection, belonging, and high standards. 

Tony Hsieh fostered high achievement at Zappos through organic connections. He used an unconventional approach he referred to as “collisions”—serendipitous personal encounters—to nurture an environment where connection happens on its own. 

Collisions foster community, encourage cohesion and creativity, and lead to more growth and expansion. 

Why it Matters

Why this principle is important and matters to you

Teams like the Spurs and companies like Zappos are successful for a reason. Their leaders build a relationship narrative through a steady stream of magical feedback and organic, personal encounters. 

Great leaders take time to consider cultural characteristics as they guide their teams. The truth is, people are more likely to rise to the challenge in front of them if they feel safe, connected, and assured that their success will pay off.

Dive deeper into how Tony Hsieh approached culture at Zappos.

Hear from Spurs team members about why coach Gregg Popovich was a strong leader.

"Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them." - Gregg Popovich

How You Can Use It

This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark

Here are some ways you can help create a culture of belonging: 

Over-communicate that you’re listening: Use physical and vocal cues to actively listen. 

Spotlight your fallibility early on, especially if you're a leader. People feel safer to express vulnerabilities and develop a growth mindset when it's a shared experience. 

Embrace the messenger. Allow people to share bad news without finger pointing. 

Preview future connection. Show the team where their efforts will lead. 

Overdo thank-yous. Small gestures create trust and belonging. 

Be painstaking in the hiring process. Aim for the best culture fit as early as possible. 

Eliminate bad apples. And name the behaviors that lead to declining team performance and trust. 

Create safe, collision-rich spaces. Increase interaction time as a group and between members. 

Make sure everyone has a voice. Let everyone feel like they can contribute to the solution. 

Encourage Participation. Everyone, including leaders, should participate in group activities. 

Capitalize threshold moments. Use magic moments and rituals to spark team bonding and collaboration. 

Avoid giving sandwich feedback. Be candid and direct, balanced with safety. 

Embrace fun. At the end of the day, laughter is the most fundamental sign of safety and connection.


An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights

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