Having friends at work is a significant element of a great workplace. This is part of what leads to comments about belonging and feeling like a family. It is a sad reflection on your business if people do not know each other well. You probably spend as much time with close colleagues as you do with your partner, so it is a terrible waste if you do not get on.
Part of the management task is to provide opportunities for these relationships to develop. Not constantly sitting on people's backs to stop them having a natter on Monday morning is one example. Treat people like grown-ups and they will behave like grown-ups, so enabling them to chat, trusting that they will get the work done, is important.
Many great relationships are forged when people negotiate difficult times together. We all remember those who rally round when times are tough, whether that means a project that is not going well or trouble with the kids or elderly parents. It is those human experiences that link us. We all have our moments, so it is comforting to see everyone pull together for someone. When our turn comes, we trust we shall receive the same level of care.
If this is modelled and encouraged by management, colleagues will pick it up. When friendships are made there is a natural inclination to help out, but unless this is shown to be acceptable in the workplace, colleagues will hesitate and wait until the boss has gone or the day ends. Enabling and encouraging that support when it is needed will pay dividends. Managers earn trust and commitment when they show their humanity in the face of need.
Finding the right balance between fun and focused work is tough. It is so easy to clamp down when the pressure is on, yet a short time of relaxation may renew the effort.
Service between people can exist only where there is trust in an organisation. Treating your team like grown-ups means trusting them to do a good job - why would they chat to the detriment of their company? It is tough to see laughter and chat when you know there is a lot to do, but you must take into account personal needs. Some people need regular breaks if they are to focus well on the work, and a lighthearted moment will spur them on to greater things. Equally, the chance to chat through a problem or concern with a colleague can make all the difference and focus the mind, so the burden of the task is halved.
The amount of chat and laughter in your team will depend almost entirely on what sort of manager you are. If you keep a tight rein on the work schedule, there will be little conversation on anything other than the task at hand. If you trust your people and believe they want to do the best job they can, you can turn a blind eye when a natural break is in progress - you may even lead it.
Experiment with allowing more chat than usual and see what happens. On the other hand, do this only if you are willing to keep an open mind and ensure that there will be no repercussions. If it does not work well, tell the team about your aspirations and concerns and see what they suggest. Remember you are dealing with grown-ups.
Itemise the work to be done on a specific day. Identify a way to measure how effectively it has been done and assess the outputs.
Then let go of the reins for a day and see what happens to the workload. Depending on your relationship to date, this may require you to go away or to stop for a chat yourself to show you are easy with the behaviour. At the end of the day, assess the workload using the same measures and see what the difference is.
Ask for feedback from someone who will give you a straight answer. If the output is under par, ask for feedback on how you might be influencing it, plus ideas for how to allow people more freedom and trust without a loss to the work.
Listen carefully to suggestions, and experiment with different forms of behaviour.
Demonstrate your appreciation by celebrating and congratulating publicly when work is done well or when an effort has been made, even if the output was not successful.
That Bob Henry will stop his work to talk to anyone who needs his time is a fantastic example to the people of CORGI. There is no need to brave the posh office of the CEO, he is always available with a chair ready and waiting. This impacts on the way people behave towards each other, taking the time to listen when the need arises. Keith has worked with Bob for 12 years, and so knows the type of support given very well. One of the things he loves at CORGI is that ‘Whenever you are on a black day, people give you loads of support, but they don't get in the hole with you.' An emphasis on listening and learning from experience ensures that people will unpick a problem in a positive way rather than joining a communal moan. Encourage this form of conversation and support all you can. It means that your people are learning from the daily round - the best education there is.