Emotional Appeal

How to strengthen organizational bonds

Zoom meeting among three people and a cat.

In an age of Zoom fatigue, it may be tempting to dispense with those silly team-building activities that elicit groans at many a staff meeting.

Yet a focus on pure efficiency may be shortsighted, especially if your team or organization struggles with finding a shared purpose. New research finds that emotion sharing—and not just information sharing—is a powerful yet often overlooked part of building group identity.

That’s according to Haas Assistant Prof. Andreea Gorbatâi’s longitudinal study of the eclectic Maker movement, a collective identity that began with electronics hackers and grew to include people with seemingly nothing in common—from crafters and physicists to do-it-yourselfers of all stripes.

Pre-pandemic, Maker Faires attracted tens of thousands of people to tinker and display their projects. Gorbatâi tracked how often attendees reiterated a shared purpose, such as “everyone is a maker.”

What dominated her data wasn’t information about skills people learned. Most often, attendees described infectious emotions and discovering others’ projects through the creator’s eyes—what Gorbatâi refers to as emotional contagion and empathetic recognition.

Emotional contagion makes people more receptive to learning from diverse participants, while empathetic recognition leads them to find commonalities. Thus, engineers teaching geometry with fractal tiles reported a newfound admiration for the technology used by hula hoopers.

So, what can managers do to foster that sense of inclusiveness people experience at Maker Faires?

“Finding ways to share positive emotional experiences can foster bonding and a sense of shared identity within your organization or team,” Gorbatâi says. “Even activities that might seem frivolous but elicit emotion go a long way in revitalizing people’s energy and connection to each other and to their shared identity.