Make Your Work Relationships Prosper
(Written with my co-author and business partner Joe Huff!)
Joe and I have worked together full time since 2012. We've been lucky to collaborate on the creation of multiple brands, write a book together, and be on the ground working on philanthropic missions around the world. We've also experienced the highest highs and lowest lows together over the last 11 years, and have seen each other and our co-workers grow leaps and bounds in ways we never expected. What started as a work relationship is now one of the most important in my entire life. And it's not just important for me personally, it's crucial for the strength and resilience of business ups and downs.
If you have a full-time job, you spend at least a third of your waking life working. That’s a lot of time to be surrounded by your boss, colleagues, clients, and business partners. The stronger those relationships are, the happier and more successful your work life will be—and shared experiences play an important part in that.
A recent Gallup study found that having a best friend at work is closely related to important business outcomes. People who have a best friend at work are more likely to feel satisfied at work, recommend their employer to others, and plan to remain in their job. They contribute to greater profitability, safety, innovation, customer service, and more.
The data shows this, but you already knew it intuitively. Think about your own working relationships. You’re most productive when you’re in a positive, relaxed mood, which is more likely when you’re surrounded by people you like. You collaborate best and resolve conflict faster with people you trust and respect.
When relationships are toxic, the results are disastrous. Communication is totally ineffectual, fraught with misunderstandings and tension. People deliberately undermine each other. They get frustrated with the constant dysfunction and disengage from their work. And, of course, unhappy people don’t perform at their best. At the most extreme, poor workplace relationships are enough to topple a company that would otherwise have been successful.
So, it’s worth the time and effort to cultivate strong relationships with your coworkers—and if you’re a business leader, it pays dividends to foster those relationships. Perhaps this used to be a natural phenomenon, but in today’s world, not so much. When so many of us aren’t in the same physical space, it takes more deliberate effort.
The key is to intentionally make time for social experiences at work. We can bond more with people through one shared experience than we can from sharing a cubicle with them for five years.
Start a new lunchtime tradition like hosting your own version of Shark Tank. Everyone loves coming up with and hearing new or funny ideas. Make it mandatory that everyone has to genuinely pitch their ideas with as much passion as they can muster. Encourage the use of props like in the show (models, diagrams, stick figures, etc.). This is a guaranteed way to get people to have fun, laugh, and bond—and possibly come up with the next Squatty Potty.
How about sharing new “secret skills” each month where you and your coworkers teach each other your respective hobbies? You fancy yourself a pro at darts? Bring in a dart board and show off your pub skills. Dave in accounting is into martial arts? Everybody goes to his dojo one week and dons a gi while Dave throws high kicks at cinder blocks. Lisa in HR is into black magic? (Of course she is.) Have her host a seance or bring in her ouija board. The sky’s the limit. You’ll be surprised what the “hive” knowledge possesses. Throughout, give each other tips and best practices on how to get the most out of the experiences.
Organize an office olympics with outdoor games, teams, and flags. Stage your own version of The Office. Get matching face tattoos, or just compare the ink you already have and tell the stories behind it.
At the very least, you can do the Treasure Map exercise with your coworkers and set up a Slack channel so everyone can share their goals, root each other on, and help each other achieve them.
If you’re the boss, pick a great experience (or have everyone vote on some within the budget) to gift someone every quarter. It can be employee of the month, top salesperson, least accidental deaths, doesn’t matter. Just make it a contest the team can get excited for and bond over.
And, of course, if your office is a bit—ahem—“stuffy,” you can always go with the good ole “bring your dog or kid to work” day.
These experiences can dramatically change how you and your colleagues view each other. Instead of staying serious and focused, you can joke, laugh, and share things that normally wouldn’t come up at work. You’ll start to see each other as real people, with histories and families and interests beyond what you see day-to-day at the office. That’s how true friendship begins.
Plus, you never know where those relationships may take you. It’s not by chance that so many business people play golf; the social experience builds trust and loyalty with other people in their industry. Even if they’re not doing a deal today, one day they might. Or they might get a referral, a job, or some other opportunity as a result of those relationships. Three or four hours together on a golf course is long enough to have more personal conversations than months of the five-minute quick hellos and goodbyes you usually have at work.
It doesn’t have to be golf, but it’s a good example of a great relationship-building activity because it creates plenty of time to talk in an informal, fun environment where everyone is doing something together. There’s a shared focus, but it’s not too intense or competitive. If you and your colleagues aren’t the golfing type, lots of other activities can meet these criteria: pickleball, fantasy sports, karaoke, pranks, cold plunge challenges, the list goes on and on. And if you have a great boss or work at an open-minded company, maybe you can even get them to buy a fun office game like foosball, pinball, or ping pong.
Remember, the activities don’t have to be some huge thing, but the more awesome and memorable the things you do with these people are, the deeper and more valuable those bonds will run.
If you were thinking, I don’t have time to socialize at work, now hopefully you’re starting to understand: you don’t have time not to. The time might not be billable, but the investment will pay dividends in your own satisfaction at work. Whether it’s your team, your clients, or your vendors, when you have a personal layer and foundation to those relationships, they become more than transactional. They become people who will root for you, stay with you through the hard times, and sing your praises to others.
About Bridget Hilton
Bridget Hilton creates tools to help teams and leaders connect in the workplace through rich experiences and shared goals. Her keynote helps Fortune 500 companies navigate topics of mental health and wellness, burnout, employee belonging and connection, inspiration, motivation, and goal setting. Her book Experiential Billionaire and card deck Treasure Maps is out now. She is located in Los Angeles, CA and is booking keynotes and workshops worldwide now.