Monday 24 June 2013

In pursuit of Camaraderie : Going beyond a network of relationships at work

The term ‘network’ conjures up images of computers and devices ‘talking’ to each other or interacting via social media platforms! I long for a return to the day when it simply meant a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.”

One can sign up for courses on computer ‘networking’ or sign up to a social media platform to start ‘networking’ and even find courses on how to build relationships with colleagues. This all is good but the ability to build an individual network of relationships serves the employee more than it serves the organisation!

Ask any individual what their objective is in building a network of relationships and invariably they outline this as being -- a means to manage office politics; form alliances; achieve personal objectives etc. I felt that there was a need to create or enable something much more nobler. As I tried to put words to this, I was drawn to the French word Camaraderie, which in simple terms is “a spirit of friendly good-fellowship” and does not imply close social personal friendship. [Fellowship was a term that had already intriqued me in an earlier blog - 'Beyond Followership --> Towards Fellowship'.]

Camaraderie contributes to a stronger and more positive ‘organisational culture’ as it provides a sense of alignment and purpose which can give a sense of belonging to employees in an organisation. There is merit in pursuing this as an organisational cultural ideal and Louise Altman mirrors my sentiment on this matter – “Make no mistake the mantra to HUMANISE the workplace and UNLEASH HUMAN POTENTIAL is simply not the responsibility of organisational architects and leadership – it is as much about how each person engages their colleagues in the process of work. After all, a culture is an aggregate of tiny, everyday gestures, comments and actions that form day-to-day work life.”

Camaraderie is one of the criteria used in the ‘Great Place to Work® Model’ that measures relations between employees and managers as a means to create trust and engagement in the work-place. Most organisations approach Camaraderie as a series of management led interventions that take the form of one of the following -- cross-training the members of a team; putting focus on team performance; measuring and taking input on how individuals contribute when working on teams; off-sites and get-togethers; work-place activities designed to unleash personal and organisational well-being etc. 

The need is to get individuals to take ownership of their individual role in building Camaraderie rather than accept the ‘outsourcing’ of Camaraderie building to management or to other proxy groups at work (e.g. social committees etc.). Towards this, I offer the following four simple advisories to fire up the 'Camaraderie-building-quotient’ at the individual level:

Advisory # 1 – Learn to discount first impressions

This piece of advice is based on my simple observation that human beings have an inherent flaw in the manner in which they go about judging people within minutes of their first interaction. There is power in that ability as Malcolm Gladwell attests to it in ‘Blink’ but in the work context you need to give more time and the benefit of doubt to your colleagues. I have always regretted forming an opinion at work as over time I realised that people behave a certain way at work as their role demands it. It takes time to figure out the real person and ensure that you do not cloud your judgement based on some simple yet incorrect observations arising from your flawed ‘first impression’.

Advisory # 2 - Learn to trust colleagues

I believe that everyone has a basic goodness in them. When you trust you have taken the first step in building camaraderie. Only give up trusting someone if they do something that allows you (or forces you!) to discount the trust given. Believe in a colleague until you can suspend this belief!

Advisory # 3 – Put meaning in every interaction with colleagues

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the manner in which I engage with colleagues when building relationships to unleash camaraderie. It is as simple as being able to look them in the eye; hand language; body language and very importantly, use your natural God-given abilities to build a relationship. I always have lunch in the company cafeteria and have actually booked a thirty minute slot in my diary for this to float talk, mingle (while having lunch) with a mixed bag of colleagues.

I see colleagues substituting the ability to have meaningful conversations face to face (F2F) with superficial social media driven one-liners or email i.e. screen to screen (S2S). Nothing replaces F2F interaction! Just remember that social media and email are complementary to relationship building and not a substitute! Better relationships driven from F2F interaction are critical to drive Camaraderie.

Advisory # 4 –Look for common ground when interacting with colleagues

One common attribute that we have at work is that our colleagues also work for the same organisation. This is a good start but you need to leverage more commonalities. It cannot be about you or your objectives only, it has to be about what your colleague also gets out of it. Focus on enabling win-win outcomes in every context. The reality is that you have to start by giving more than you take out of the experience. Start by participating in events and leverage opportunities for you to be seen as taking an interest or contributing in events/activities that others are keen on or are supporting. If that means volunteering at an orphanage or becoming part of the social committee at work then do so.

In conclusion, think actively on this matter and you will see a new and more powerful dimension appear at work as you make your contribution to Camaraderie at a very personal individual level.


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