Workplace Relationship Building or You've Got A Friend In Me

As more Millennials enter the workforce, relationship building among co-workers (or team members, or partners or whatever current corporate speak is in fashion) is rapidly gaining in importance. Many people entering new jobs - especially if they're in new places - are looking to their office as a place to develop friendships.

It's hard to exactly say why. It could be the “more connected, more lonely” phenomenon. Perhaps it’s because people move more now and so struggle to build long-term, proximity-based relationships. Whatever the reason, it seems something has changed since the "old days." 20-30 years ago it was common for work to stay at work. And not just the tasks themselves, but the relationships as well. Now that we’re faced with 24-7 connectivity to our work, the workplace reality isn't what it once was. Today, however, people are more likely to collide their social and employment spheres. 

And so we encounter many clients looking to find ways to create meaningful connections within their work teams. Not quite sure how to do that, leaders often turn to meetings of various kinds. The afterwork social can be a good way to encourage people to get to know one another and build trust and connections. But what do you do if you’re trying to be a little more intentional and want to hold a mid-day or lunch meeting to foster those connections.

In general, whenever the goal of a meeting is to build "friendship," especially among groups that aren’t homogeneous, there are three primary objectives.

1. Make everyone feel normal.
All people at some level want to feel normal. That is especially true where in a group where the differences between people may be what, in part, defines the group. When we’ve done this work for our clients, we spend time thinking about what things unite this group. What shared experiences might they have. What shared joys or failures. We’d find topics for discussion or questions to be answered that unify the group.

2. Make everyone realize their shared humanity.
This can be a bit conceptual. But often in groups trying to build camaraderie, particularly across socio-cultural divides, it's essential to humanize everyone in each other’s eyes. You can help everyone realize their similarities within the workplace by discussing what motivates them at work, what hopes do they have for their future, or what makes them feel successful in the course of their work.

3. Make people laugh.
When groups laugh together they form bonds. Especially when they make each other laugh. Your goal isn’t to be "comedian funny," it’s to help them see each other smile. Also, people tend to make more eye contact with each other when they share in joyous and even silly moments. Eye contact is another driver for relational connection. Look for ideas that make unlikely connections between people and help people relax the natural defenses they often put up in their work environment.

Keep in mind that you can’t necessarily incorporate all these objectives into one meeting. Home in on your core relationship challenges are and start there. And don’t be afraid to just chip away at this. Quality relationships and a strong team dynamic can’t be built overnight. Think about your team and nature of the people on it. Make sure that whatever you select to do is a good “fit” for those people as best as you can tell.

With all that in mind here’s a few ideas for topics and activities that you can consider and adapt. Hopefully they help get you going in the right direction.

Discussion Topics:

  • Most beautiful thing you’ve seen in nature.
  • Place you most want to visit in the world.
  • Most disgusting food you’ve eaten.
  • Worst teacher you’ve ever had.
  • Most trouble you’ve gotten into at school.
  • A terrible movie you absolutely love.
  • Five facts about your favorite thing.
  • Riskiest thing you’ve ever done.

Activities:

  • Close eyes, hold an odd object and describe it.
  • Have each person draw a part of a drawing.
  • Read a scene from a silly movie.
  • Play Heads Up 
  • Those are all things we’ve had success with in the past, and we hope that it can be helpful to you.

Most importantly, be confident. Be yourself. Keep it light and fun. If you genuinely care about seeing your people connect to each other, you will undoubtedly go a long way to making that happen.