Standing on the outside looking in: The view of a Consultant…

How to foster a sense of 'belonging' in your organisation

Taking a breath and changing hats and lenses between clients can be both energising and tiring. As I sit here in the sun with my cuppa in a moment of reflection, I think of what a privileged and interesting position this is to be in. Coming up to our 4th Birthday and thinking back over these years and the number of clients and people I have engaged with makes me think about how great it is to be standing on the outside looking in…

As workplace engagement and wellbeing specialists, we know the importance of “belonging” when it comes to employees feeling good and functioning effectively at work. But what happens if you don’t technically “belong” to an organisation like me? Can I still have the same impact? 


I agree with Brene Brown when it comes to this. She says that:

“Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to BE who we are”.

Every time I engage with a new client and for any length of time I work with them, I absolutely learn their business, their culture and personality, their language and their uniqueness and at times I do feel completely embedded. But this doesn’t mean I CHANGE myself each time I switch between clients (which is sometimes multiple times a day). If you are constantly focussed on changing who you are to fit in, you miss the learning, the knowledge and the chance for connection and impact and you lose a little bit of yourself every time. And if this is happening, you are probably not where you need to be.

So as I reflect on “belonging” to the organisations and clients I work with, here are some of the observations I have made as I BE myself and stand on the outside looking in…

1. Most people don’t intend to come to work every day and make life difficult for others  

At this point in time people are tired, cranky, anxious and worried about what is happening around them and what the future might hold. These “uncomfortable” feelings manifest in different ways for different people and in the workplace, we see some undesirable behaviours creep in. What I have found most of the time is that they don’t even know they are behaving this way.

To break the instant judgement that comes naturally to us humans and to stop us taking on their negativity, there are a couple of great things we can do in this moment:

  • Remind yourself that perhaps they are doing the best they can with they have right now and recognise that their fuel tank that drives positivity and good energy is clearly running low.
  • If you know them well, ask yourself what could be driving this? Is there something at work that you could support them with – offer to help, ask them for a virtual coffee, show interest in their projects/work.
  • Simply ask them – Are you ok? This shows them that you have noticed that they are not OK and by not asking “What’s up with you today” in a judgy kind of way, shows them that you are not judging their struggle.
  • Give them space if that’s what they want – sometimes people need a break and if you are in a position to, tell them to go have a cuppa in the sun, finish early for the day or take some time out to rest and recover.

Personally, when I have client who is expressing some “uncomfortable” feelings or frustrations, after I remind myself that they are doing the best they can with what they have right now, I feel a stronger sense of connection and satisfaction knowing that they feel psychologically safe to share this with me. It is then about being confident with the non-judgmental response, support and feedback that is critical in maintaining this psychological safety.


2. Asking for help is a sign of STRENGTH not weakness 

As licensees of the Wellbeing Lab, our work in this space has led us to really understanding what drives people to, or not to, ask for help. Professor Wayne Baker has found that asking for help makes us more effective at our jobs. It leads us to new job opportunities, helps us better adjust to new circumstances and manage our stress better, enhances learning and boosts creativity. 

From a business perspective it elevates team performance, reduces costs, and improves operational efficiency. Asking for help is often the one simple act standing between us and success. So why is it so hard to ask for help?

This is something personally I have had to practice over the years as my parents did a great job of teaching me how to be independent and stand on my own two feet. And as someone who gets so much satisfaction from helping others, I tend to do this more than ask for it in return. So, when small businesses or leaders turn to us to ask for help with their people engagement or wellbeing, we get a huge boost of satisfaction and they get a huge sense of relief; as well as an additional set of hands and expertise to help them grow and perform better – win-win!


So think about how you ASK for help and practice strengthening this muscle. It is also a great way to keep connection with each other.

3. Stop trying to fix everything and start being more CURIOUS!

When I start working with a client, I sometimes feel like an annoying 5-year-old wanting to know all things about life and I find myself constantly asking “Why?”. I can’t recall what age kids start to stop asking “why” but I think it’s about the time they start to become an adult. As adults we tend to jump straight into solution mode to “fix” things instead of asking ourselves “why did this happen? Why am I feeling this way? Why are the people in my team or business lacking engagement?”

So, what happens when we avoid telling, advice and fix it mode and train ourselves to ask why and remain curious? Dr Michelle McQuaid interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier, owner of Box of Crayons and they sum this up nicely; “when you lead with curiosity you’re more likely to be focused on the stuff that matters. Because when you’re navigating complexity, which we all are, the obvious challenge is often not the challenge, and the obvious solution is not always the solution. Although you may feel it’s quicker to jump straight to a solution, if you can hold back and remain curious, you create a better environment of collaboration with others and have a better chance of reaching the right solution. Curiosity has also been found to increase engagement, as it allows us to be more confident, more competent, autonomous and self-sufficient”.

This is why I love asking WHY so much of my clients – not only do I learn so much, it allows them to think about all the options and possibilities we may have missed in solving their problems.

Here’s some simple advice that I’ve taken from the experts:  

  • Tame your advice monster and ask questions instead of going into fix it mode
  • Develop a sense of fascination when things go wrong so the learning takes over the feelings of overwhelm and beating yourself up
  • Be the change you want to see in others (this is my favourite!) As leaders, look around and think about the people you have influence over? Do you facilitate a learning environment by leading with curiosity yourself? Do you celebrate when they are curious to learn and grow?

Again, like asking for help this is another thing us adults must practice to strengthen, but this is why I feel so lucky every day that I get to stand on the outside looking in. Sometimes changing perspective helps you pause, reflect and reset how you are going to approach a person, a situation or a challenge!

Awareness Co. is a Wollongong based HR consultancy, providing HR solutions that go beyond just work performance, and focus on developing individuals and teams to thrive in work and in life. Awareness Co. use the latest evidence-based tools to improve wellbeing, resilience and performance, transforming the way you think, feel and behave at work. To learn more about our programs and services reach out via our website 

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