The story of belonging

Next in my adventure across the coherence narrative realm is the story of belonging. It sort of maps into one of the fundamental needs from the Four Needs Framework, but plays a subtly different role here.

The story of belonging is also something that is easy to spot as a felt experience. Someone wise suggested that humans are wired for connection, and the web of these connections is what creates the gravitational pull in the story of belonging. There’s something about being together with others, being part of the group, next to those who consider you kin, being loved, included, and understood.

When I try to examine stories of belonging, I notice something interesting. They usually contain the words “we,” “community,” “together,” “teamwork,” “alignment,” “unity,” and so on, but structurally, it’s almost always not a standalone story. Instead, the story of belonging acts as a powerful catalyst, laced into the story of a threat or the story of an opportunity. Just milling around together is one thing, but something magical happens when the “we are”  is combined with “under attack” or “the future”: the capacity for coherence shoots up like a rocket. No matter what kind of compounding loop we might face, it seems that doing it as a tightly knit group feels natural and right to us humans. 

To add to the weirdness, the loss of belonging is a common story of a threat — and finding it a common story of an opportunity. In our interconnected world, this kind of ouroboros is in itself an abundant source of compounding loops. It’s one reason why teams tend to form boundaries and organizations grow silos. It is also the undercurrent behind the craving to gain more likes or followers and many similar societal dynamics. 

Considering the story of belonging as means to improve organizational coherence, a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, the stories of belonging are quite inert by themselves. The need to combine with compounding-loop stories to get traction. Second, we live and tell multiple stories of belonging simultaneously. Navigating all these stories is tricky, and growing new stories of belonging (“we are a team!”) is a careful, finicky process that often bumps against all the participants’ stories, taking patience and time to develop. Maybe this is why we use the word “culture” to describe a mature organization’s story of belonging?

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