The Belonging Summit 3 October – a quick summary in pictures

All set…_EWB5217.jpgThe team in jolly spirits in final prep…

 Welcome _EWB5280.jpgIt was a real pleasure to welcome a great crowd of delegates to the Belonging Summit yesterday. We hosted it in the 18th Century library at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Our colleagues and guests chat animatedly over coffee at an early start for a packed agenda.


Our founder, Isabel Collins, opened the Belonging Summit. 

“Belonging is deeply programmed in us. It can’t not affect business.
And every day belonging affects business performance and productivity in ways that organisations can’t articulate, or diagnose, or really address.”DSCF4707.jpgOur team of hosts – Isabel Collins, with Barry Flack and Ezri Carlebach. They established why belonging matters for business, beginning with a look at many recent headlines about ‘culture’ damaging businesses, reputations, service to customers, and confidence of investors.

“It’s easy to see WHY belonging matters: today we’re looking at HOW it works. What makes it tick?” 

“That’s what we’re all about – pinning down the impact of culture, making sure belonging helps and doesn’t harm.” _EWB5342.jpg “Belonging – and not belonging – is a passionate theme of current times.”

 Lisa Bretag, Airbnb_EWB5400.jpg

Our first guest speaker, Lisa Bretag, Employee Experience for Airbnb (based Berlin, all round Europe), shared how Airbnb has nurtured its valuable culture. The founders were famously advised early on by an investor; “Don’t fuck up the culture”. Their core mission ‘Belong anywhere’ is an unshakeable ethos at the heart of the company – and belonging is central to the attitude to employee as well as hosts. DSCF4732.jpgLisa Bertag, Employee Experience for Airbnb 

“Values are a crucial guide on how to do stuff…. If done right, core values enable employees with clarity on how to behave, which reduces the need for inefficient and demoralising micro-management. they also enable trust and freedom to act.”

Lisa is part of the values team, a collection of people around the world and in different roles.

“No matter what your position will be, however senior, the last two interviews are core values – and this team shares this responsibility. If people don’t pass these values interviews, even if their skills are top top level, they don’t get the job”

 Jorina von Zimmermann, UCL_EWB5521.jpgJorina von Zimmermann, experimental social psychologist from University College London (UCL), enlightened us on how we think and behave in groups. Jorina explained the powerful pull of conformity – and its various manifestations. Conformity can come about in unintended ways (other than punishment or constraint). She showed the difference between Informative (ambiguous) and normative conformity, and the powerful effect of group polarisation on decision-making.

 Jorina’s subject is Synchrony – how, by sharing a movement and the intention to do something together, people conform, cohere together, and signal affiliation.

We agreed her findings are particularly relevant for work in organisational culture around safety, ethics and diversity and inclusion. _EWB5531.jpgJorina ran a quick experiment live with the audience, getting us to observe the movement of dots on the screen… did we affect each other’s perceptions? UCL’s research with this exercise has explored ‘Hive thinking’ and demonstrates that 10% of a group can influence the thinking of the rest of a group. _EWB5547.jpgEzri led our discussion with Jorina, with enthusiastic quizzing from the audience on this fascinating theme.
Considerable debate about how companies can BOTH recruit people who support similar values AND ensure they avoid group-think or replicating the same kinds of people: a tricky belonging challenge.

David Watts, UK Youth_EWB5614.jpg David shared the particular belonging challenge of taking an established organisation into a completely new phase – after pretty much everything changed: new CEO, new Chair of Trustees, mostly new senior team, lost a chunk of funding when public policy changed, gained new funding, radically reduced the team and then expanded…

David spoke frankly about how to get the boards to address culture;
“You’ve got to show how and where culture impacts on your effectiveness – the value of specific reference points for culture.
Your Belonging Framework was invaluable to us” 

Thanks David!
His line “We were like a start-up… with a pedigree” was one of the top quoted points at the end of the day.

Opening-upDSCF4777.jpgBefore coffee, Ezri got us all on our feet, gesticulating with our arms. He shared a research experiment that if you move your hands and arms in small movements before a creative task, it might help you get focussed, but not a big impact on results.

Whereas big, wide arm gestures – “Imagine you’re throwing a beach-ball! “– before a creative task will help to increase your performance by up to 24%!” 

Apparently opening our arms also opens our minds and creativity. A lot of fun – and seemed to work for our crowd.

Workshop: The only way is EthicsDSCF4858.jpg_EWB5695.jpg_EWB5724.jpgIn a short workshop session, we split into 3 groups to share a taster of our participative approach: getting people’s sleeves rolled-up and stuck in to specific ethical dilemmas. Careful thought, healthy debate, and belonging challenges, in one of our workshop activities “The only way is Ethics”.

Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA, on ‘Good Work’
Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA, who was not able to be present at the Summit, kindly gave us a filmed interview a couple of weeks ago. He led the government review  into modern working practice and published the ‘Taylor Review: Good Work’, in July. 

His deep understanding and careful analysis of the interests of employees, employers and broader society gives a high level insight into the belonging challenges of work now and into the 21st century.
Click here to see the film clips._EWB5756.jpg Our Associate Barry Flack led a hearty debate –
‘Does culture affect productivity?’
Oh yes it does, shouted the audience (well, via
‘Will it be enough to leave it to business to ensure ‘Good work’ is in place, or do we need regulation?’
Delegates shared less conviction on this point… Business may need robust encouragement from regulation to put this into place.

Discussion raised support for accountability to report on culture and values alongside other aspects of business risk, in the corporate report. We’ll watch the Financial Reporting Council’s recommendations on this point with interest.

 Birgitte Skade, BerendsenDSCF4885.jpgOur final speaker is a longstanding client of our founder – Isabel has partnered Birgitte over the last seven years, as Birgitte has led Berendsen’s journey to build a sense of belonging.  

_EWB5807.jpgBirgitte examined the interdependency between culture and strategy. She shared how Berendsen has created unity across many national and local cultures, and different legacy brands and business lines, after extensive acquisition.
Vision, mission and values are the core of belonging._EWB5865.jpgWhat’s the most important aspect of a large, long-term programme around values and belonging?

“You have to take people with you, including your board.”
“And most critical is the support of your CEO – we had great support and it made all the difference.”

The discussion with delegates’ experience confirmed: without CEO support, the timing is not right to address big cultural challenges.
Birgitte showed the relationship to performance. And concluded that a strong sense of belonging has helped Berendsen with confidence through changing times.

Wrap-up_EWB5894.jpgWe asked whether culture was at the top of the agenda for delegates’ leaders and boards. The conclusion was a resounding ‘Yes’ – but are they equipped to deal with the challenges of culture and belonging? ’No’.

One insight from discussion was that while most companies present conducted an employee engagement survey, few had an active employee experience programme. Engagement is a number: belonging is membership, being part of something.

And that, the Summit concluded, is far more valuable to business performance.DSCF4904.jpg And the Belonging Space team enjoyed exploring the library and the spiral staircases.


Photos by Edward Webb,