After a lot of planning, my client and I facilitated a big gathering yesterday, bringing board and staff members of a local non-profit together. We had several rounds of the design, wondering, “How can we make these 6 hours really worth everyone’s time?” My client had to find a space, plan food, help 40+ people create a plan to disappear from their work for a day. And I had to create an enabling environment for connection, fun, and insight.

As is often the case, the few weeks leading up to the event felt like a pressure cooker. Post-Covid anxieties, all sorts of reasons why our design might not work. It would have been way easier to cancel the whole thing and give people their time back.

Luckily, this client doesn’t roll that way, and neither do I. We share a belief in the irreplaceable power of people coming together. When people have space and an invitation to access their own inner wisdom, I have never, ever been disappointed. Not once. Yesterday was no exception. Our return on investment was off-the-charts.

Lately I’m pretty sick of hearing about self-care as the answer to what ails us. Yes, certainly that’s part of the picture. But its woefully inadequate. I wrote here about three kinds of care—the care we give ourselves, the care we receive from others, and the care we give to others. Fulfillment isn’t possible without these three.

When we bring teams together to remember their mission and to connect with one another, we are giving people a chance to both give and to receive care in their temporary vocational community. It’s a risk, it takes time and money, it’s especially hard after two years of isolation, but it is worth the work.

In her book “American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal,” Kerri Kelly says,

“We are wired for connection. Connection is our true nature…Sociologists assert that the fundamental unit of human existence is the small group and not the individual. We are who we are because of each other. The lie of individualism is not just that we are separate exceptional selves, but that we can heal ourselves by ourselves. What I have come to learn is that no amount of self-inquiry, self-esteem building, or self-development would change me as much as I would be changed in relationship…I am who I am because of relationship. The self that I know myself to be has been shaped and imprinted by the people who have crossed my path. The ‘me’ I have been seeking is really a ‘we.’”

We grow in relation to each other, and the workplace has so much potential for connection. I have always been drawn to it as the ultimate laboratory for adult growth and development. And I see us settling for less these days.

I am the last person to advocate for lots of meetings. But if you’re going to make all your meetings “stand-up virtual check-ins,” you had better have a really good plan for how real connection is going to happen. Your employees or colleagues probably aren’t clamoring for retreat days or a night at the bowling alley, but they may leave, underperform, devolve into conflict, or stagnate without them. Sometimes we don’t know what we need. The very things that can heal or energize us are the things that can seem to require too much energy.

It’s a leap of faith. It takes courage to be the one that says, “I think we should plan a gathering.” It takes even more courage to suggest you do something real when you’re together. I promise you—it is worth it.