Building Belonging with the Avengers Philosophy

a photo of a carton of different colored eggs - a metaphor for belonging
Photo by Kelly Neil on Unsplash

Do I belong here?

This is a question we ask ourselves all the time, whether we realize it or not. And the answer impacts how we show up and contribute. It impacts how we connect and engage with others and our work. It impacts both individual and team resilience.

Belonging is good for business

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social psychologist Abraham Maslow identified belongingness as part of one of his major needs that motivate human behavior – just like food, shelter, and safety. 

A strong sense of belonging helps both people and organizations thrive. Workplace belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% decrease in employee sick days

Getting better at cultivating a workplace of belonging

Unfortunately, many people don’t feel like they belong at work. More than 40% of people feel emotionally and physically isolated at work, a finding that transcends gender, age, and ethnicity.

We often talk about belonging and inclusion as an initiative – some special event to occur, some program to launch, some training session.  While these initiatives are important, belonging and inclusion needs to be a consistent practice to truly cultivate a workplace of belonging – one that invites everyone to the table day-in and day-out and celebrates and harnesses the unique differences of its people.

Being seen like an Avenger

Part of our work on belonging and inclusion at Spotlight Trust involves embracing something we like to call the Avengers Philosophy.  It draws inspiration from the Marvel Comics’ multi-billion dollar franchise superhero team franchise, The Avengers.  Each Avenger on their own is skilled and powerful, and is also flawed – like most humans. However, the Avengers are on the team not because of their flaws, but because of their unique strengths and how they complement one another when they come together. Together, they save the world.

So the Avenger’s Philosophy is about celebrating the areas where people shine. It’s not judging fish for their ability to climb trees.  It is a practice of including people and celebrating their strengths, not criticizing their weaknesses.  It’s making sure everyone’s voice is heard, respected, and valued. It’s about creating the conditions for trust to be abundant, not scarce.  

The Avengers Philosophy in Practice

So how do we create this sense of belonging?  What does the Avengers Philosophy look like in practice?  Here are a couple practical ways to apply it in your everyday:

  1. Practice active listening.  It’s purposefully making more eye contact and holding an open, attentive posture.  It’s being genuinely curious about others and asking questions – not merely thinking about what you’re going to say as soon as the person stops talking.  A great place to start is by extending the invitation, “Tell me more.”  
  2. Practice one of my favorite frameworks – “Move up, move up.”  This was developed by the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) and is especially relevant to meetings and collaborations.  The idea is that if you’re a person who is always an active participant, move up to a posture of providing space for others to participate.  If you’re a person who generally hangs back, move up to a posture of generosity and share your thoughts with the group.  

The responsibility to foster belonging

Belonging is about creating the psychological safety and the trust needed to show up as one’s true self.  It’s not about policing people into a safe space, but focusing on creating and co-creating a brave and trusted space where people can try things out, potentially fail, support one another, and try again. This sort of space is also an incubator for creativity, collaboration, innovation, engagement, resiliency, and productivity.

Belonging is seeing people for who they are, and not pulling back, but embracing that unique, amazing individual and creating the conditions for them to show up as their best selves and contribute. Fostering a strong sense of belonging is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader and one of their most powerful levers.

How can you better support your team in giving a resounding yes when they ask themselves the question, “Do I belong here?”

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