It was a simple question, but it surprised me the first time I saw it.

It was question # 10 on the survey, “I HAVE A BEST FRIEND AT WORK.”

My organization wanted to measure employee engagement using the Q12 survey from Gallup in which employees answer 12 questions on a scale. The definition of an engaged employee, according to Gallup, is one who is “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Gallup’s data shows the more fully engaged employees you have, the more successful your organization will be.

Why would they ask if you have a “best friend” at work? Well, Gallup has learned that great relationships are important for working together as a team, and close friendships are a way to measure it. As I reflected on the question, I knew they were right.

Real relationships, not the surface-level kind, bring with them psychological safety. With your good friends at work, it’s okay to be yourself and to be vulnerable with each other, because it’s safe. Safety leads you into deeper discussions in which you can disagree in a healthy way. Great relationships make the good days even better and the difficult days bearable, because you have someone to help and support you.

A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. Proverbs 17:17

When we meet new people, our brain tries to quickly determine if they are “friend” or “foe.” Yet, sizing the other person up can lead to snap judgements. We tend to see as “friend”, those who are more like us, while we are more guarded with those who aren’t. If you bring a group of strangers together, you will find most will sit near people like them if left to their own devices. Men sit with men, women by women, minorities with minorities, etc.

What does that mean for organizations and leaders? It means we need to be intentional in helping people get to know each other, so they see the other person as a friend, not a foe. We need to foster a culture where people are encouraged to get to know one another, to find common ground and develop relationships. “Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others” Philippians 2:4 (NCV)

How can we do that?

1. Assign seating or groupings. Don’t allow self-selection. Instead, be intentional to mix things up by creating groups and assigning seats in meetings. Do anything to get people to spend time with others unlike them. Yes, at first the participants will hate it, but they will get over it as they begin developing relationships, even friendships, with others.

2. Allow time for relationship building. Too often relationships are left to chance. If we leave it to chance, we will continue getting what we have been, which is a more segregated group. When bringing teams together, make certain there is sufficient time to get to know all members individually to find what they have in common. That excludes the typical five-minute icebreaker.

3. Foster social time. It can’t be all work all the time in your organization. Create social events, formal and informal, that encourage employees to spend time with each other.

Let’s foster relationship-building within the workplace. Your organization and all who work there will benefit from better relationships.

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