[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
Once we recognize the value of meaningful relationships at work, the question that follows is, “How do we create and maintain workplaces that foster camaraderie?”
Quite simply, social connections at work are fostered in the same way that they are anywhere else – by people spending time together. To build strong relationships, we need time to talk, joke around, eat, play, and work hard together.
Meaningful relationships require both enjoyable and sometimes even difficult shared experiences. Think about what happens when a healthy workplace faces an emergency. All of a sudden, everyone begins to work collaboratively to respond to the situation, regardless of their areas of responsibility. The walls of separation created by titles and departments are quickly broken down. When coworkers experience an event together, they feel more connected as a result.
Our workplaces become truly welcoming when they reflect the diversity of ways that different people connect.
Above all else, remember that while relationships are a natural part of human experience, they don’t often happen without effort. As with many things in life, if we devote time and energy toward forging relationships in our places of work, our efforts will eventually be rewarded.
In the following few sections, we identify some specific things organizations can do to foster positive relationships.
Provide a Variety of Ways to Connect
Our workplaces become truly welcoming when they reflect the diversity of ways that different people connect. An extroverted manager who designs the office space, runs meetings, and plans social events to suit their own preferences is sure to exclude those on the team who are more introverted. As we make space for relationships to develop, we must remember that different people have different preferences for how and when they connect. For instance, some people enjoy time for quiet conversation, while others prefer the exuberance of a party, and still others would rather connect over an activity.
Spend Time Together
Don’t just work together – eat, drink, play, or volunteer together as well. Social gatherings such as holiday parties and summer barbeques are opportunities for leaders and employees alike to engage with each other as peers. They are opportunities to interact in purely social ways and learn about the lives of colleagues outside the workplace.
At ACHIEVE, in addition to social gatherings, we spend time together by participating in community events. We attend fundraisers for local not-for-profits, and we participate in rallies and events for causes that align with our values.
Many organizations rely on holiday parties to foster social connection. These events are often loud and filled with activity, and they usually involve alcohol. While many employees may enjoy this type of get-together, some do not. As you plan events that will facilitate bonding in your organization, ensure that there is some variety over the course of the year.
When considering the location of a weekly drinks-after-work gathering, remember that some people can’t or won’t go to bars due to preference, religion, or addiction. Transportation to events might pose a problem for people without cars. The time of gatherings might affect people with kids. The location may not be accessible to people with mobility issues. These dynamics should always be considered as you work to provide opportunities for all employees to interact with the larger group in settings suitable to their preferences.
Increase Face Time
If your organization’s employees don’t all work together in the same space every day, consider posting pictures of staff members in newsletters, on your website, and around your office.
At ACHIEVE, many of our trainers and some of our staff live in other parts of the country. In order to facilitate connection, we put together a regular newsletter that includes a section featuring pictures and personal stories from people within our organization. We know that, due to a phenomenon called the “mere exposure effect,” when people regularly see someone – even if it’s only a photo – they tend to like them more.
One way to give an opportunity for staff to connect with each other is to schedule a development day pertaining to a topic that relates to everyone in the organization. The most effective learning opportunities for relationship development are those that are not solely focused on job skills but also include personal development. For example, training in areas such as emotional intelligence or stress management can apply to everyone in the workplace.
When we like the people we work with, when we experience camaraderie and collaboration, our personal satisfaction increases and our experience of work becomes enjoyable.
Sometimes a change of pace lets team members break out of their roles, allowing them to meet others and connect over new content and ideas. At the same time, those in attendance learn valuable skills to apply to their work.
You may want to consider hiring a professional facilitator for your professional development day. As facilitators ourselves, we have noticed that it is an advantage to lead groups without having any preconceived notions about the connections, or lack thereof, among them. Coming from outside the organization allows us to get people working together in ways they are not accustomed to and to ask questions that may be difficult for an insider to ask.
Give Fun Its Rightful Place
There is much truth in the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter releases endorphins, increases oxygen intake, elevates the pain threshold, eases stress, and brings people together. It’s important to remember to have fun. Life is too short to be serious all the time.
In our organization, one way we have fun is by celebrating odd and interesting events on the calendar, such as National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day and National High Five Day. We often pause for a moment to laugh and ponder the origin of these days while enjoying a cream-filled doughnut or giving each other high fives. These short little diversions throughout the week increase not only laughter but social connection as well.
When we like the people we work with, when we experience camaraderie and collaboration, our personal satisfaction increases and our experience of work becomes enjoyable. Organizations will flourish when they invest in creating a culture that fosters meaningful relationships.
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