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Community Contribution

Building Team Cohesion One “Connect & Reflect” at a Time

Mar 12, 2024
Hong Ha Nguyen

When it comes to creating enabling environments for collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA), the USAID Learns team in Vietnam has intentionally held team building activities throughout the life of the contract. One important tradition is holding team Connect & Reflect sessions. As the name implies, it is meant to enhance team cohesion and cultivate individuals’ reflection skills, ultimately leading to better team collaboration and staff satisfaction. 

These sessions typically last for one and a half or two hours. In the first year of the contract, when many new staff joined the team, we needed to create a CLA-friendly team culture and shape team norms. Therefore, we held Connect & Reflect sessions every month; in the middle and toward the end of the contract, the frequency was reduced to every two or three months. In order to ensure everyone contributes, gains experience in facilitation and is engaged in building the team, we took turns to facilitate the Connect & Reflect sessions. Staff members with more facilitation experience can help brainstorm ideas and support new facilitators to come up with a facilitation approach. 

While it may seem time consuming, if we count how much time we may lose and the cost we bear when coordination and collaboration do not work, or conflicts arise, we know it’s better for us to spend time and effort to prevent issues rather than fix them. Because we maintain these practices, we do not take it for granted when the team collaborates smoothly and has the ability to reflect and continuously improve collaboration. For example, when Learns went through the year of lockdown due to COVID-19, some Connect & Reflect sessions played a crucial role in helping us stay connected and motivated. 

Here, we share the topics covered in Learns’ Connect & Reflect sessions as inspiration for other teams. Topic selection depends on where the team is regarding its maturity, what struggles staff are having, what can spark motivation and energy for the team, and what reflection tools/frameworks can be useful. Determining the session topic often involves a quick “team pulse check” by the facilitator, who assesses what would be most beneficial for the team at that moment. The diverse topics explored by Learns may spark ideas for your own team’s Connect & Reflect.

getting to know each other
Building reflective capacity
Enhancing team collaboration
Improving team performance

 * Note: The categorization is for easy reference. All the topics of Connect & Reflect sessions aim to help team members build deeper connections through sharing personal experiences, thought processes, and values. This fosters team cohesion and collaboration as the ultimate objective.

Links in the table:

It might be worth noting that how a Connect & Reflect session is implemented is as important as the topic itself. Implementation should be done in such a way that team members want to come to the sessions, participate with open hearts, and leave with a sense of connection and motivation. 

About the authors
Hong Ha's profile picture
Hong Ha Nguyen

Ha is the Senior Director of Organizational Learning at USAID Learns in Vietnam. With 18 years of experience in the development sector, she specializes in multi-stakeholder process management, organizational development, and project management. Ha holds a master's degree in development studies in University of East Anglia, with a focus on gender and development. A feminist and facilitator, in short.