The Guide To Corporate Human Connection Strategy

The Party Scientist
11 min readJan 16, 2024


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Cultivate employee thriving, prevent chronic disease & depression, and boost team performance.

Being the emcee at a blockchain conference in Miami.

Over years of contributing to business events, conferences, and corporate holiday parties, I’ve come to a confident conclusion. Many leaders are not aware of the ‘science of human connection.’ Nor are they willing to apply it.

So my goal with this article is to equip you with neuroscience-based tools to connect your people. I want to show you the reasons why the time is now to get strategic about connection in your workplace.

My goal is to inspire you to write a technical document laying out your strategy for connecting your teams, departments, and new hires. This is called a Human Connection Strategy (HCS).

Why does any of this matter?

Source: BetterUp

  1. High belonging protects against burnout and turnover. Research: BetterUp.
  2. Psychological safety is the strongest predictor of team performance. Research: Google Re:Work.
  3. Lonely employees have 5x sick days. Research: Cigna.
  4. 85% of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds. HBR.
  5. Longevity: “the influence of social relationships on the risk of death is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceeds the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.” Meta-Analysis.
  6. Happiness: Meaningful social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life. Even conversations with your Uber driver.

A human connection strategy makes sense because the quality of your employees’ connections impacts their health, performance, and tenure.

What is an HCS?

Your systematic approach to fostering positive, supportive interactions among employees (or community members).

The HCS influences the onboarding experience, internal event strategy, meeting operations, and leadership programs. But there’s no limit. The limit has yet to be defined!

What is the norm?

In researching companies’ different approaches, I learned that the community-centered approach is popular. Asking employees what they want and then executing on their sentiments.

This is how a lot of team-building programs are chosen. And I recommend it. Except, employees are not experts on human connection, so their choices are not optimized for results.

Here’s what I discovered about the norm, in my research and direct experience with my clients.

  • Spaces for informal, water cooler chats.
  • Games rooms, ping pong, and free alcohol.
  • Periodic ‘team-building’ (ex. trivia, escape rooms)
  • Outside-of-hours happy hours.
  • Periodic parties, where people eat, drink, & watch.
  • Small talk or icebreakers during meetings.
  • Digital communication tools. ex. slack channels
  • Employee-led interest groups.

What do real companies do?

HubSpot’s Ice Cream Days (hybrid)

Sendle’s Midweek Meal Club (remote)

Spectrum’s Mentorship Program

(71 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees)

Omicron’s Entertainment and Engagement Committee.

Chevron’s Coaching Circles.

X-Team’s Seasons & Outposts.

You’ll notice that these are not HCSs. They are components of an HCS. I don’t know if these companies have a cohesive HCS.

LUSH Cosmetics’ Approach

LUSH is unlike the others. I know firsthand, having contributed to dozens of LUSH events. I’ve become familiar with their culture and approach to human connection. For LUSH, connection begins with shared values. Why are people drawn to the LUSH employer brand? When I asked employees this question, the answer, repeatedly, was ethics.

When I asked the COO Elisa Torres about connection at work, she highlighted shared personal values.

“We teach, train and immerse our people in everything we believe in as a company and how we can do much more than just sell things. We actually make a difference in the world, leaving the world lusher than we found it. As a campaigning company, we foster activism and embrace the individuality of our teams. Our staff are drawn to the brand most often because some of our values and ethics resonate with them.”

UiPath’s Approach

I asked Brigette McInnis-Day, the Chief People Officer, and she emphasized the science of trust and manager-driven practices.

“People tend to trust you when they believe they are seeing the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic), and when they believe that you understand and care about them (empathy). That’s why I consider these four strategies paramount in how an organization promotes — and supports — human connection:

  1. Invest in manager training: To build stronger relationships with team members, managers have to understand what’s expected of them and develop the skills to deliver on those expectations.
  2. Make the most of 1:1 and check-in meetings: This is time that can be used to clarify and prioritize goals, recognize accomplishments, share feedback, and discuss career goals and well-being. Unfortunately, many managers treat 1:1s as a status update meeting and fail to focus on creating more thoughtful connections.
  3. Recognize your team members in an intentional way: Manager-driven recognition is especially powerful.
  4. Create space for feedback: Encouraging employees to share feedback is an effective way to ensure that their needs are being met.”

Two observations.

1. There is no gold standard for the cohesive HCS.

2. The HCS is intertwined with many other initiatives, such as learning & development.

What is an evidence-based HCS?

The prevalent philosophy for the HCS is this.

“If we just create the space (in time and in physical), our people will forge deep relationships.” In other words “If the people see each other again and again and have informal interactions, they will become friends and like each other. Then, they will work better together.”

This is a failing strategy for three reasons.

  1. This puts the responsibility on your people to be vulnerable, ask deep questions, demonstrate empathy, and reach out… Very few people have the courage or the skills to do this.
  2. People do not have time for chit-chat. Everyone is under the pressure of hundreds of unread messages, deadlines, and personal life responsibilities.
  3. You can only go so far without facilitation. There’s a difference between intimacy (emotional closeness, “they have my back”) and knowledge of someone’s life. With merely casual interactions, the relationship will remain casual and factual — unless there’s an invitation to go deeper than casual and connect in a new way.

The philosophy of an evidence-based HCS is this.

Create the guiderails that encourage and facilitate deeper interactions, while giving people the freedom to choose their own level of vulnerability.

And I should add. “Leverage JOY.” Because joy makes people more ready to connect. Joy and gratitude activate prosocial neural circuits!

Aknin. Positive feelings reward and promote prosocial behavior, Current Opinion in Psychology.

During onboarding, internal events, and meetings, leaders must not only create the time and space for connection, but they must also create the structure and the invitation = the permission for being real; the instructions for how to connect meaningfully; the catalyst for the thought:

“Wow, I never knew that about her. I want to get to know her more. I am curious. I like this person. She has things to teach me. I wonder how many others on my team are like this and I just didn’t know.”

The structure is merely the invitation — a path laid out in the forest. But the adventurer, they can choose to bushwack if they like. They get to choose what they disclose and how much they participate.

The paradigm shift here in one sentence:

To create deeper interactions, leaders must create the time, the space, & the structure.

The objective of the HCS is to create authentic work relationships. Let me explain what this means with two examples from two thought leaders.

  1. I was listening to Brandon Bornancin’s podcast episode and he said this. “I will not hire someone unless I’d want to spend a weekend at a Lakehouse with them.”
  2. During a workshop led by my mentor Kimberly, she said this. “You don’t know your coworker has cancer?! You’re not on a team.”

Authentic, unmasked relationships are the goal. We are aspiring to create relationships that go beyond mere projects and deadlines. So how do we spark these relationships?

What the evidence says

Whether you hired social butterflies or hermit coders, the methods here will work for most of your staff. Because they activate universal brain circuits.

Traveling to 15 countries, I’ve witnessed these methods work with groups of people who don’t even speak the same language. Let’s dive into some literature.

There are a lot of studies on social bonding. And there’s one thing to bear in mind before we dive into it — for the majority of the lifetime of the human race, humans were not conversational. Chimpanzees weren’t either. In the 21st century, mainstream leaders emphasize conversation as the core tool in their HCS.

Conversing is not everything. Vulnerability is not just exercised through personal disclosure — sharing edgy personal feelings, stories, or failures. To fully harness the power of human connection at work, you must go beyond intellect, language, and talking.

The literature identifies key factors that activate social-bonding neurotransmitters. Here they are.

Non-Conversational: Laughter. Touch. Emotional synchrony. Physical synchrony. Vocal synchrony. Eye contact.

Conversational: Vulnerability. Verbal validation. Empathy.

What are activities that incorporate these?

Play. Vulnerability, verbal and nonverbal validation, emotional synchrony, laughter, eye contact, touch.

Dance. Physical synchrony, vulnerability, emotional synchrony.

Song. Vocal synchrony, vulnerability.

Authentic Relating. Vulnerability, verbal validation, empathy.

Storytelling. Vulnerability, verbal validation.

Recognition. Verbal validation.

In a separate article, I answer the question: What is the best method for fostering strong social bonds? So, we won’t go into detail here.

In summary, connection practices should increase the level of engagement and intimacy among participants. The evidence tells us that there are a diversity of ways to design connection activities to this effect.

What do you do with these practices?

Effective connection practices discussed above can be incorporated into onboarding, internal events, internal meetings, and L&D initiatives — when everyone is gathered in the same room.

Specifically, during engagement breaks and intermissions. This is where the opportunity lies. Don’t have engagement breaks? Then you’re creating Zoom fatigue according to brain scans. Data.

In summary, evidence-based connection ‘snacks’ can be incorporated as energizing pauses throughout internal gatherings, whether it’s an onboarding orientation or a training seminar.

Even one-on-ones between the manager and direct reports. They can begin with 5 minutes of connection practices. Because no one is watching, more vulnerability is possible.

Paul Rubenstein, a Digital HR thought leader, emphasizes the importance of intentional one-on-ones as a feature of your HCS:

No amount of engagement with ‘purpose’ and larger culture can overcome an in-authentic unsatisfying connection to your direct Boss. How often do we forget to get beyond discussing tasks, and get to know and understand the mutual motivations to succeed — or the home pressures and stresses that shape performance? A simple and authentic ‘how are you doing’ can go a long way.


Why you won’t do anything differently after reading this…

I don’t have time. My meetings are jam-packed.

Connection first. Content second. Ask yourself: “What content can everyone in this meeting watch at 2X on their own time?” Is a presentation more important than psychological safety?

Given the cost of gatherings, it is insane to focus on presentations and keynote speakers. Let your people consume the content on their own time. Let them watch a TED talk on YouTube. To make the most of a gathering, focus on connection and collaborative interactions. Every opportunity together should be spent truly together, not with everyone facing the backs of each others’ heads.

My culture is not ready for this.

The larger the gathering, the more risk there is in expressing the whole self. If your people don’t feel safe at your company, I would avoid incorporating new practices into the larger gatherings and instead incorporate them into smaller ones. One-on-ones have the least risk.

If your people are not into it still, then work must be done to make them receptive to new versions of socialization. There are two strategies I recommend.

  1. Educate your people about the value of human connection. Explain why new practices are being introduced and the results they’ll generate, personally and organizationally.
  2. Take baby steps. Stick to structured conversation exercises in the beginning — storytelling and appreciation. Then, graduate to body-based practices like dance, singing, and play. Maybe even a lightsaber duel.

What is your HCS, Jacques?

I run a community in Vancouver. The purpose of my community is to help its members access more vitality in their relationships and in their bodies. It’s different from a workplace, but I promise some of my strategies are transferable.

  1. Only candidates who are the right fit can join. That is, potential members must share our values — health, personal growth, and fun.
  2. Events trump digital platforms. Whereas a lot of communities focus on asynchronous communication (ex. Slack), I encourage my members to attend events. There’s very little digital communication other than logistics. The most nourishing connections happen IRL.
  3. Events are designed to foster a culture of risk-taking. Goofiness and vulnerability are structured into the scheduled activities. For a lot of people, it’s too much at first. But they adapt quickly. They discover the fun of being expressive.
  4. There’s a mix between structured events and organic, unstructured, do-what-you-want events. After the fertile soil of psychological safety has been laid, it’s important to allow people to connect as they choose.
  5. At every event, there’s an opening ceremony that evokes positive emotions. This is important because positive emotions lead to prosocial behavior.
  6. Most importantly, we do vyving — a health practice I invented leveraging shared joy, gratitude, and play. The ultimate social-bonding practice.

Where most human connection strategies fail is in the production of high-energy positive emotions.


We discussed why an HCS matters, its definition, real examples, and evidence-based connection practices. Finally, I shared my HCS culminating with the practice of vyving.

Now it’s time for you to reflect: Are you giving enough thought to your HCS?

Given social relationships are the most important factor in human longevity and happiness, my answer is no. I want to be more intentional. Are you intentional?

Maybe it’s time to develop a personal HCS too. I have one 😊

Here are the 7 criteria I’ve identified for an effective human connection strategy.

  • Official connection exercises (rituals) have been developed and are encouraged throughout the organization.
  • Connection exercises are based on social neuroscience. They leverage joy, music, and vulnerability.
  • Managers are trained and motivated to lead connection exercises on their teams. Their one-on-ones and team meetings reflect this.
  • Internal events and off-sites contain plenty of connection exercises and interactive breakouts, not presentations and performances.
  • Team-building activities encourage vulnerable social interactions and shared joy, not merely entertainment and shallow fun (ex. Video games)
  • During onboarding, new employees do connection exercises with team members and their manager.
  • All forms of recurring group meetings begin with a brief connection exercise led by a team member.

Final Recommendation

Try some structured conversation exercises with your team.

If you’re feeling thankful, could you like or comment this article? What wisdom do you have to share with other readers? We’d love to hear your additions.

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Thanks for spreading healthier human connections 🧠

— Jacques, The Chief Connection Scientist



The Party Scientist

Human Connection & Belonging Strategist | Professor of Shared Joy | I help leaders reinvent how they connect their people and build community