Together: Relationships at Work

Two days ago, I published a post on Relationships. It examined the why behind relationships. Why we as business people need to deeply care about relationships. I gave two reasons: 1) relationships give meaning to our lives, and 2) relationships motivate us. All true. What we didn’t talk about is how to develop relationships.

We can approach the conversation from two ways. The first way is to ask the question on an organizational level. How do I, Renee (that’s my boss), develop a workplace where my employees are going to befriend each other? The second way is to consider how we develop relationships in the workplace on an individual level. How do I, Seth, develop friends among the people I sit next to? We’re going to talk about the first question, now. We’ll tackle the second in a post, tomorrow.

We develop workplace environments that promote relationships by sharing values, setting hard goals, and slacking on efficiency.

1. Share values.

Hire people who care about why your organization exists. Hire people who care about the same things that you do. In this postmodern age, it is often difficult to find what is common. Our era is individualistic and values agency over community. (Those are some generalizations, you’ll have to forgive me.) Often the question is Do I have the right to do this? rather than the question How will my actions affect people? If you ask the second question more often, you’re a better human than me.

This indicates that we have pushed common values to the side. The greatest common value of our time is: “Your value is not everyone’s value.” It becomes very challenging to communicate using a common language. But common languages, common values, tie us to a community. And in those communities, within our common beliefs and faiths, we get to know one another and develop deep and lasting relationships. There are people and institutions devoted to discussing these effects on our broader culture, but we’ll limit ourselves to thinking about how it translates into the workplace.

In the workplace, common values might not mean worshipping the same God (or whether you worship), sharing views on marriage, and it certainly does not need to mean sharing political views. But it does mean sharing common ends and common means.

We first must identify clearly what the end (vision) of our organization is. And then proclaim it. It should be the fight song of your employees. It is something they take pride in.

The second step is identifying what the means (values and mission, roughly) of your organization is. I don’t as much mean your strategy or your structure. I mean, what are you willing to do. What kind of actions does your organization honor and what does it shame? If making money is what you honor above all else, that might be at conflict with integrity.

You might need to do some self-assessment on this one. It can be easy, though. Look at the last week in your organization. Who was honored? Who was chastised? What were these actions responding to? If you are not honoring what you value or chastising what you abhor, you might need to reevaluate things.

Identify what you want to value. Identify what is not tolerated. Act accordingly.

2. Set hard goals.

This might too easily be translated into “set big goals”. But that is just slightly off what I mean. I mean set hard goals. Difficulty knits people together in a common struggle.

While on my college’s ultimate frisbee team, a friend of mine and I were talking about how to create the kind of team unity that we knew was necessary for our success. Stephen mentioned that the team needs to be in pain together. I didn’t understand. He told me that growing up on competitive soccer teams, the way the team grew close together was through hardship and struggle. It was on the field, practicing to the point of pain, that the relationships became real. Because of this common struggle, when game day came, they would push each other, sacrifice for each other, and give it everything they had.

I don’t have firsthand experience, but it seems easy to imagine that this is one of the most useful results of difficult and painful military training.

When your organization sets its goals, set your goals beyond your comfort zone. If you think something is easily within your grasp, make your goal four steps further. This can mean big goals, but if you want your big goals to build deep relationships through a common struggle to their accomplishment, you also need to make sure they are hard goals.

3. Slack on efficiency.

I say that with caution. But if absolute efficiency is the driving purpose of your organization, you’re not going to leave room for your employees to make jokes, to talk by the water cooler (is that still a thing?), or to share what’s going on in their lives.

If you are a company who doesn’t care about fostering relationships, then don’t do this. Make people bring water bottles and cut the jokes out. Make sure your employees don’t share about their personal lives. But if you want your employees to trust each other, to communicate well, to drive towards common goals, to hold each other accountable in a positive way, and have purpose to their work, then you need to make sure you give efficiency a breather occasionally.

This can be taken too far. There is a line. It’s different for every company, and wisdom will be your teacher.

Tomorrow, we’ll post about how to develop relationships in the workplace on the individual level.


About Seth Reid

Seth is the Instructional Designer at Resolve. His job is to design courses and platforms that engage students with learning material that they can understand and effectively apply to their life and work. He's also the blogrunner here at Resolve. That mostly means that he picks the pictures for the posts. He is also an avid fan of chess and loves to study history. He is currently based in Jackson, Tennessee.

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