Human beings are profoundly social — we are hardwired to connect to one another and to want to work together. Frankly, we would never have survived as a species without our instinctive desire to live and work in groups, because physically we are just not strong or scary enough.
Tons of research has documented how important being social is to us. For instance, as neuroscientist Matt Lieberman describes in his book, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, our brains are so attuned to our relationships with other people that they quite literally treat social successes and failures like physical pleasures and pains. Being rejected, for instance, registers as a “hurt” in much the same way that a blow to the head might — so much so that if you take an aspirin you’ll actually feel better about your breakup.
David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has identified relatedness — feelings of trust, connection, and belonging—as one of the five primary categories of social pleasures and pains (along with status, certainty, autonomy, and fairness). Rock’s research shows that the performance and engagement of employees who experience relatedness threats or failures will almost certainly suffer. And in other research, the feeling of working together has indeed been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement that brings with it the very best performance.
Theoretically, the modern workplace should be bursting with relatedness. Not unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, most of us are on teams. And teams ought to be a bountiful source of “relatedness” rewards.