This article was based on episode 007 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Full-time employees spend a majority of their waking hours with colleagues in the office. That’s a lot of time to spend with people whom you didn’t exactly choose to be around. Some people keep a strict separation between work and personal life. Others find their office mates quickly become their best friends. Are you developing social connections with your colleagues or do you minimize the quality and quantity of interactions in an effort to separate work from personal? And more importantly, why does it matter?
WE ARE SOCIAL BEINGS
When you first meet someone new, you likely find yourself searching for something you have in common. Do you both have kids? Share a favorite sports team? Work as product managers? This stems from our need to connect with people. Once you find that topic of mutual interest or area of commonality, the conversation becomes easier. You may even feel an instant bond when you realize you both attended the Tom Petty 40th Anniversary Tour. After all, humans grow and thrive in community. Without that sense of community in the workplace, you may be missing out personally and professionally. At worst, you may be feeling isolated and unhappy.
The research agrees. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, found that social connection is one of the greatest predictors of happiness and reduced stress - meaning that happiness leads people to be successful, instead of the commonly held belief that success leads to happiness. Happier people perform better; they are more productive, creative, and motivated.
CONNECTIONS AT WORK ARE IMPORTANT FOR COLLABORATION
Connections at work provide a sense of cohesion, which is essential for cultivating teamwork and collaboration. Employees with positive work relationships become more engaged in their work. Morale goes up, as does loyalty, which create greater team stability, thereby reducing the costs of employee turnover.
When managers and their team members have strong connections and relationships, work flows better. Many interpersonal dynamics become less stressful. Conflicts are reduced and those that do arise are often easier to resolve. When you connect with people, you tend to be more forgiving in challenging situations. When you start from a place of trust and safety, you’re more open and willing to listen, and more likely to use positive conflict management strategies.
I experienced this firsthand with two colleagues who had a miscommunication. They were both very upset about the topic of the miscommunication and came to me for help. When we sat together to address it head on, it quickly came out that the information was misinterpreted, and even though there were a few tense moments and some tears, they were both quick to take responsibility for their part in the confusion.
People with positive relationships are also more willing to be vulnerable and take risks in front of one another. When I feel emotionally safe, which in part, comes from feeling connected to people, I’ll share half-baked ideas to see what my colleagues think. I’m more comfortable asking for help and acknowledging my mistakes because I know I won’t be judged.
On the flip side, when you don’t care about your colleagues, small things can quickly blow up. You’re not invested in other people’s success so why should you give the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong. You don’t go the extra mile or step up to help out. You don’t speak up in meetings to share important dissenting opinions or out-of-the-box thinking.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH AND AMONG YOUR TEAM MEMBERS
As a manager, your job is to connect with each of your team members and to foster connections among them. You want strong relationships with your team because you want them to come to you with problems, give you feedback, take in your guidance, and strive to become high performers. You need strong relationships between the team members because that’s where the work gets done. People aren’t working only with you - they’re working directly with one another. The more connected and aligned the team, the greater the performance will be.
This is challenging, in part, because the number of relationships multiplies quickly. If there are two of us - say, you and me - that’s one relationship. Add a third person, and there are four relationships. You and me. You to person three. Person three to me. The three of us together. And so on. That’s a lot of relationships to manage. You can’t orchestrate perfect relationships among everyone, but you can be intentional about creating opportunities to connect individually and as a team.
Some managers worry about blurring the boundaries between boss and friend. Being a friend and having a personal relationship are different. Having a personal connection means you see someone as a full person and they see you that way, too. It means you demonstrate that you care about an individual beyond what they accomplish. It can be difficult to find ways that feel appropriate to bond individually with colleagues. So instead of making it about you, promote a workplace culture that encourages social interaction and helps everyone connect better.
5 WAYS TO PROMOTE SOCIAL CONNECTIONS AT WORK
Here are some ways you can help build workplace connections: The guide that accompanies this episode provides more detail and is available here.
Celebrate work-related and personal occasions. It may seem like a no-brainer, but celebrating special occasions is a great way to create connections at work. At Meeteor, we have a breakfast to welcome new team members on their first day of work. We munch on bagels as we talk about who we are, our role on the team, and what we do for fun outside the office. Existing team members share something new about themselves each time a new hire joins. We’ve learned a lot about each other. One fun fact - almost all of us are accomplished musicians! Important personal occasions can be joyous (birthdays, the birth of a child, a work anniversary) or sad (the loss of a family member). They are all opportunities to show you care.
Share personal stories and photos. Sharing stories and images from your life outside the office is a fun way to bring the personal into the workplace. At Meeteor, we share photos of our weekend activities, vacations, and holiday celebrations. It’s nice to see people smiling with their families, or incredible architecture from halfway around the world. Sharing via an online messaging system like Slack or Whats App also connects virtual team members. Whether you’re sharing photos from your weekend soccer game or your kid’s school play, or takeaways from your favorite podcast, you’re connecting with others by sharing parts of your life. If you’re already doing this, great! Keep it up! If you’re not, start by sharing your experiences to role model this behavior. Once others see that you’re doing it, they’ll follow.
Take time out of the office for team building. Whether you choose a full day team building retreat or a random Tuesday game evening, getting people together outside of the office helps them to relax and get to know each other better. There are many ideas for team building activities and places to hang out in your city. Here are a couple questions to ask yourself as you decide what to try: If it’s after work hours, how much time will it require? Be cognizant of asking people to give time outside of work. An occasional evening or weekend activity is fine, but you don’t want your colleagues to feel pressure to sacrifice their personal lives. Does the activity require any special physical or other kinds of capabilities? The Meeteor team went rock climbing and did trapeze, but only after ensuring each person was comfortable, and even enthusiastic, about these activities. If you have a virtual team, a full company outing is more difficult. In this case, it makes sense to consider flying everyone in for a few days. The relationships and feelings of goodwill that will be generated by physically being in the same room can last for months.
Bring people together over non-work topics. Non-work topics provide a context in which to expand the conversations colleagues have with each other. Consider starting a book club. Books give people something to talk and think about other than work. The types of books your team picks can vary. Not everyone has to read every page. The premise is less that people consume the content and more that they have scheduled time to talk about it and learn from one another. Similarly, consider hosting lunch-and-learns. Have outside guests come to speak or invite team members to share their expertise and passions. At Meeteor, we’ve hosted sessions on design thinking, improv, and how the Internet works. Both book clubs and lunch-n-learns are particularly good choices for virtual teams since it’s easy for everyone to participate without being physically together.
Surprise your team with occasional special somethings. Nothing says you care like a thoughtful, unexpected gift. Maybe you buy lunch for your team after a particularly grueling project or week. Or, if you go on vacation, bring back a box of specialty treats. This is a Meeteor favorite. I recently visited Harry Potter World and brought back Fizzing Whizbees for my office mates. My team members have brought all kinds of goodies from their travels. This provides another yet opportunity to talk about vacation. If your colleagues are remote, mail some treats to them. Or research their neighborhood and buy them a gift card to a fun local restaurant or coffee shop. Trust me - they will appreciate it!
INVESTING IN CONNECTIONS IS EVERGREEN
Whatever you decide to do to encourage social connections at work, be sure to do it consistently. Building relationships doesn’t happen overnight after one great evening of bowling. Just as in a friendship, you need to continually invest in the relationship or it will atrophy. As new team members join and others depart, new relationships will be formed. To create a strong and engaged team, make building connection part of your team DNA. Not only will you and the entire team benefit, but you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.
This article was based on episode 007 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Download the guide to building connection with your team here. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
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