Are you looking for ways to strengthen your company culture, but just don’t know where to start? If so, it could be as simple as focusing on the work relationships within your organization.
Good work relationships have been identified as a key building-block of a strong company culture. According to a Harvard Business Review article, researchers Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron found that creating a positive culture improves employee well-being.
Well-being is highly correlated with employee engagement – a key factor in everything from productivity to profitability. And guess what takes first place on their list of essential characteristics required for a positive workplace culture? “Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.”
Learning how relationships influence employees and company culture helps business leaders better model and encourage relationship-building within their own organizations.
Strong work relationships not only benefit the individuals involved, but can also be seen as a reflection of an organization’s core values.
“Relationships are key to a company’s culture, because they support and mirror back the company’s key values, says Debra Thompson, CEO of The Alternative Board Boston, the Boston chapter of a national peer advisory board organization. “They add depth to the value statement and they underline the ability of the company to deliver the value.”
As a business leader, you’re in a unique position to model the relationship-building and communication style you want to see within your organization. Your relationships then reflect your company culture.
Thompson says that by strengthening relationships with everyone from partners and customers to employees, leaders send strong signals of what the corporate identity is and the values that are held.
“Define the values you would like to communicate, and work together to support each other in delivery of that value. That alone will solidify your culture.”
The relationships within your organization also directly impact employee engagement.
“Employee engagement is the number one predictor of an associate’s productivity and contribution,” says Davis. “And effective relationships are foundational to an employee’s level of engagement. So, focusing on the quality of our relationships directly links to the overall productivity and success of an organization.”
A critical element of strong work relationships is open communication between the parties involved.
The relationships required to strengthen a corporate culture require open communication not only between peers and team members, but also between direct reports and their managers. This open communication directly impacts employee engagement, an important requirement for a robust company culture. A massive global Gallup study of over 2.5 million managers discovered improved employee engagement when supervisors had daily communication with their direct reports.
Interestingly, various studies in recent years show this freedom for open discussion with supervisors is directly linked to an employee’s commitment to staying with an organization for the long-term – part of the employee engagement which contributes to a company’s culture.
This is particularly significant among the large millennial contingent making up part of our current workforce. According to Gallup’s 2016 What Millennials Want From Work and Life study, 62% of millennials who feel they can talk to their managers about “non-work-related issues” have plans to remain with their current employer a year from now.
As a business leader, let your team know you value open communication.
“To establish good relationships between the senior leaders and the rest of the employees, one tip is for senior leaders to schedule round table discussions with small groups of employees and encourage them to share about their view of the corporate culture and what can be done to help it get stronger,” suggests Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, a diversity and career development consultancy. “Then thank each employee for attending with a follow-up e-mail and earnestly take action around the input given.”
Encouraging relationship-building at work shouldn’t be difficult. Here are five easy options to help foster and strengthen social relationships between your team members, both in and out of the workplace.
Whether your organization promotes a formal or informal mentoring program, pairing up a more experienced employee with a recent hire gives staff members a valuable resource for work-related questions.
“Create a mentoring program and encourage people to participate,” says Kimer. “Perhaps focus on pairing an experienced long-term baby boomer or Gen X-er with a younger millennial to help break down barriers and stereotyping between those groups.” Not only does this help build relationships, but Kimer says this allows knowledge to flow both ways. “Perhaps the experienced employee can share industry and organizational knowledge, and the millennial can contribute fresh perspectives and technical savvy,” he says.
It’s also a great way to encourage team members to get to know each other as both employees and individuals.
If you aren’t already hosting a weekly potluck or pizza lunch, consider adding a social hour to your company’s weekly schedule. Choose the time and location according to your organization demographics.
After-work drinks on Friday work well for staff without spouses or kids to pick up from daycare. A leisurely lunch or even early Friday afternoon catered meal may work better when most of your employees have family obligations.
Consider arranging two-person lunch dates between employees in different departments for quick and informal “get-to-know-each-other” sessions.
Accounting company Freshbooks, online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker, and inbound marketing and sales company Hubspot are three examples of companies promoting work relationships (not romantic ones) through blind lunch dates.
Basically, they pick random employees and then pay for them to have lunch together for the purpose of getting to know each other better. And it’s all in the name of relationship-building to strengthen company culture.
Getting together to raise money or volunteer for a favorite cause, charity, or community event is another good way to encourage relationship-building that strengthens a company culture. Choose a cause or event that reflects the values of your organization, and encourage employees at all levels to take part.
Sometimes having fun in a group outside of the workplace is the best way to establish or improve on work relationships. Host a fun event that is easy for anyone to take part in. Possible outings could include:
These team-building events offer opportunities to foster social relationships as well as build trust among members of your organization.
Because it’s such a basic “building-block” of company culture, relationship-building at work hasn’t always received the attention and care it deserves from business leaders. Yet if you’re on a mission to create or strengthen your own company culture, start by nurturing the individual relationships within your organization.