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Episode 9: Leading Your Friends

podcast relationships Feb 22, 2022

"In a small organization how do I manage staff and provide effective leadership with my staff that have turned into friends?"

Why Friendship At Work?

The intersection of management and friendship can be a tricky one. What makes it tricky for you?

Some concerns I have heard in conversations with leaders are things like:

  • I’m afraid to hurt the feelings of my friend if I have to confront something.
  • What if I believe I am supposed to move on? How would I tell my friends?
  • What if some of the team members get along and others don’t? Isn’t it better to just keep it professional and avoid clicks?

I’ve also heard some of the benefits:

  • There is this synergy that really has helped us achieve a whole new level of work
  • I look forward to work everyday because of the great people I get to do this with
  • Friendship at work made it possible for me to walk through tough stuff and still do my job

You are not alone on being torn between the pros and cons of this one. Historically, leaders have viewed friendship at work as detrimental to productivity. 

People lingering at lunch break or stopping by workstations to chat or hanging out by the water cooler. In that moment, they aren’t working so it seems that productivity would be down, right?

Did you know that Gallup research is showing that friendship actually improves productivity? Shocker, right? Time spent doing actual work is not the only measure of productivity. Let’s add effort to that equation. You can manage someone’s time by requiring a schedule or a timesheet and think it equals productivity, but it doesn’t. Time is a factor, and energy or effort is what can make that time actually productive.

The Multiplier Effect: Time X Effort = Productivity

What is Friendship?

Think about friendship and what we mean when we say friends at work. 

  • You probably have friends in your life that you’ve invited into inner spaces.
  • You may have other friends you meet for a purpose – a bible study, work out, etc.
  • Friends you connect with socially because they’re fun to hang out with
  • Friends who work with your spouse or your kids play the same sport
  • Friends you see once a year because you knew them in college or high school

Friendship is important; but it doesn’t mean doing life with everyone. There’s different layers of friendship. Gallup shared with us that people who have a friend at work report:

  • A sense of belonging, a close bond
  • Someone who “has your back” – someone who looks out for you

I’ve seen the benefits of friendship at work in my own life and in others. Instead of the hard and fast boundaries of work vs. home, it’s living in the tension between the two. Lean into it and figure out how to do it well so you can create space for friendship while also being on the lookout for potential drawbacks that might pop up.

But, what if friendship goes all wrong and negatively impacts the work of the team? 

How Can You Address These Drawbacks?

I’ve heard concerns and you can’t just ignore them >> because they won’t go away on their own. I’ll throw a few there that I hear often. 

What about those tight-knit teams that over-focus on themselves and lose sight of the people they serve?  The trap of a team that’s too closed-in is that when faced with a decision their default is to be self preserving. Decisions are made to make things easier on each other. We want to have each other’s back, but not at the expense of the purpose of the team, which is to serve customers, clients, participants, or members of the organization. You as the leader will have to be on the lookout for that and keep the main thing the main thing. 

Yep, you’re living in the tension >> pressing into the heart of leadership. 

Even more frequently, I hear concerns about clicks. New people come on the team and find it hard to fit in. Side conversations are happening. It might even be that people are being left out of decisions because the decision is happening between friends. If you don’t step in early you might even see an  “us” vs. “them” mentality develop. And, let me tell you, that’s not a team you want to be leading >> but it happens so subtly it’s really easy to miss! 

Friendships are going to develop whether we like it or not, we might as well press into the mess and lead through it so that we can get some of those benefits we were talking about earlier – where productivity goes up and people are more energized and excited to come to work.

Bottom line for how to handle the drawbacks of friendship at work is lot’s of conversation – the kinds of conversations that clarify what friendship at work looks like around here, checking in on how to make sure everyone gets included, and repeatedly talking about keeping the main thing the main thing. Clarity is key and clarity is kind. 

FINAL NOTE: You will need friends outside of work. Your people will need friends outside of work. 

I often hear from leaders that it’s lonely at the top – there are some things you just CAN’T talk to your team about even if they are friends. So, find friends outside work, build a relationship with a mentor on the outside or hire a coach. Because, you need space to work things through when they get complex. 

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