THE IMPACT OF A SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT ON A COLLABORATIVE WORKING CULTURE
“There is something deeply important about an experience of being in the presence of someone without being impinged upon by their demands, and without them needing to make a demand on you. And this creates a space where someone can feel sufficiently safe as though there is a shield, or someone guarding you against dangers such that you can be forget your self and be open to trust of and connection to others.”
– The Paris Review with Adam Phillip
It All Starts With a Conversation
CONVERSATION – is a form of interactive spontaneous communication between 2 or more people who are following the rules of etiquette. It’s a polite give and take of subject thought by talking with each other for company.
In all of the management positions that I have had, getting to know people as associates or human beings was many times more important than only knowing them as employees. Knowing people’s values – and understanding how they are handling their Entire life – is the only way that a collaborative working environment can be accomplished.
When I started my own business Treats, which was a neighborhood restaurant and dessert house, we treated the employees as a family – and if we got busy when the employees were in the building as customers, they would pop up –buss tables – deliver food and clean up – without being asked. They all shared the vision and felt accountable to making Treats successful.
When I was given the job as director of training for The Bon Marche, I was also given the responsibility to organize and produce the employee reward effort. Our big focus was 6 regional “Achiever Banquets”. These regional events were all at very nice resort facilities where the top sale associates would come in for what amounted to a very fun party. All management would be there and each store’s top sale producers would enjoy a great dinner, open bar and after dinner dancing, where everyone was just having fun.
The entire organization looked forward every spring to what I call the “Achiever” road show. As I reflect back on these banquets, what I remember most is that this was the one time a year where management and key sales associates were just a bunch of people having a lot of fun. The conversations were not about work – they were about just getting to know each other. Very often the groups that attended these events were the same year after year. In some ways we all just became friends, having a great time at a very fun party. When management traveled to these stores for business reviews – the way people interacted changed, people played less attention to their title and spent more time just discussing business objectives with people they knew. Working together was fun, not stressful.
When I was given the opportunity to take over the in-house Advertising Agency, the unit was very polarized. Many of the staff had been in the operation for a long time, and the work groups were very separated, both in their social interactions as well as how they did their work. The previous senior leadership was very hands off and did not spend any time in the Agency. In those days the senior leadership was on the 7th floor and the agency was on the 3rd floor.
When I was given the assignment, it happened congruently with the retirement of the Operating VP, so being curious – I decided to do both the Senior Vice President job, as well as the operation Vice President functions. I had 2 offices: one on the 7th floor and the other on the 3rd floor, right in the middle of the operation. I lasted in the senior position for almost 11 years, and one of the most important elements of being able to turn this dysfunctional high production agency into a high performing and technology-leading collaborative organization was the hiring of my administrative assistant, Colleen Bol.
With Colleen, we not only doubled productivity, but Colleen added the title of “DIRECTOR OF FUN” to her job description. Throughout the 18 years of working together, as we moved into helping Seattle Community Colleges define their Vision for the upcoming millennium, to spending 6 years as the head of Alumni Relations for the University of Washington, and finally as the CEO of Tully’s Coffee, Colleen was not only a terrific assistant – helping organize my heavy meeting and event schedule – but more importantly, Colleen paid attention to the social aspect of our cultures. So I have often told Colleen, and anyone else who would listen,“She Made Me Look Better Than I Was”.
The lesson learned –
People that work together, and play together – stay together
People that work together and play together – manage change together
People that work together and play together – handle crises together
People that work together and play together – produce more work together
People that work together and play together—stay friends together
A truly collaborative working environment must be built on a consistent execution of many things, but all of the management behaviors that support collaborative cultures are greatly improved when people know their fellow employees as real human beings. This “real people” interaction Increases Trust, Creates Greater Empathy, Makes Change Easier, and Supports Passion and Positive Self Esteem, both for the individual and the team.
It All Starts With A Conversation…