The Connection between Friendship and Better Business Outcomes

By Kelly Vandever


What?!  What does having a best friendat work have to do with better business outcomes?


That was the question that one of my colleagues posed as we were introduced to the 12 Questions.


The 12 Questions came from research done by the Gallup organization.  These 12 questions, discussed in the book First, Break All the Rules,are statistically reliable in indicating success in organizations; the higher an organization scored on the test, the better the organization’s productivity, profit, retention, and customer service.


So it follows that if you can raise your scores on the 12 Questions, you could improve your business results.  We managers we’re being introduced to the 12 Questions because our company was going to measure our answers and address any short comings found.


Going back to my fellow manager’s question, “What does having a best friend at work have to do with better business outcomes?”


All the other questionsseemed to make sense to us.  But we all were a bit baffled by the best friend question and there were no strong answers coming to us either from the session facilitator or the book.  Stats geek that I am, I actually read the appendices in the book but it wasn’t until I got to Appendix E that I saw that the best friend question was tied to customer service and productivity.


Doesn’t that seem to make sense?


Maybe we treat our customers better if we’re hanging out with at least one cool person we like. Maybe we’re more productive for the same reason.  Or because we don’t want to let our friends down.


In the last few weeks, I had one person tell me about having a better working relationship with the people he knew first as friends before he hired them to work for his company.  And another person who told me about her husband quitting his job after more than 20 years to go work with some former work-friends who now worked at a new company.


Now all those years ago when we were in that first meeting, I didn’t know what we’d do if we had a bad rating on the friend question.   Even if I believe having a best friend at work is a good thing, how do you help your employees have a best friend at work?


Well I don’t know if I have the exact answer to that particular question still, but I do think we can gain better connections at work with some meaningful human interactions. One method for doing that is by telling our own personal and work stories.


Storytelling Creates Human Connections


Storytelling enthralls us as human beings.  One look at the movie, TV, and fiction industry and there’s your proof.


When we’re willing to share our own stories, personal or work-related, not only are people engaged and listening, but we reveal how we think and why we do the things we do.  I don’t know that telling our personal and work stories will make us best friends, but I do see storytelling as a means for engaging in real and meaningful ways.


Start Somewhere


The suggestions below can help you and your colleagues to get know each other.  You can do them as part of a team meetings, cross-functional meetings, or an off-site meeting where you spend more dedicated time to really getting to know one another.


Telling personal and work stories are ways we can fast track getting to know someone as a person.


We have our industry in common– You all work in the same company in the same industry so share a little about how it started for you.  Ask these questions and allow everyone to answer from their own experiences.  How did you discover/become interested in our industry?  What do you particularly like about the industry?


First bosses– Our first experiences in the workforce often forms a lot of our opinions and work habits.  Use questions to explore where you’re all coming from.  (Of course, this could be awkward if you are an employee’s first boss!)  Example questions:  Tell me about your first couple bosses.  What do you remember about him or her?  What did you like about him/her?  What drove you nuts about him/her?  What did you learn from him/her?  What’s something you do today that was influenced by your experience with your first couple of bosses?


Can I ask you a personal question?  – Give members of the group the chance to answer this question:  What’s something about you (personally and/or professionally) that would be important for me to know as your colleague?


Let’s talk business– There are often hidden talents in our midst.  Use questions to help people talk about what they’re good at and encourage them to share where they struggle.  The cool thing is, as humans, we want to be helpful. If the struggling person is willing to share, their colleagues will be eager to offer their insights.  Everyone wins.  Sample questions:  What’s the hardest problem you’ve had to work through?  (If one doesn’t stand out above all others, what was the latest tough problem you worked through?)  What’s something that you’re stumped on right now?  What have you tried?  What do you plan to try?  Would you welcome suggestions?  What’s something you tried that turn out way better than you expected?


Let’s get (a little) personal– We are all multi-dimensional human beings. Share your interests outside of work. Sample questions:  What besides work and family is something you really enjoy? What activity or group do you wish you could participate in or join?


That reminds me of the time… – Have you ever been to a cocktail party or with a group of friends and noticed that after one person tells a story, usually that person’s story will triggers someone else to tell a related but different story, and before you know it, multiple stories have been told?  Set up a similar situation at work.  The group leader can start by telling a story with some sort of significance and encourage others to tell their stories. Then the group can reflect together on their goals and values based on what they’ve heard during the session.


When a leader speaks– Identify an issue that you think is important for the organization to get right and share why you think it’s important. Ideally, tell a story about this issue from your own history.  If possible, tell a story where you’re not the “hero.”  By that I mean two things: either (1) make someone else the hero of the story (like the person who taught you an important lesson) or (2) tell a story where you don’t look so good.  Tell them about how you made a mistake and the lesson you learned the hard way from that mistake.  Ask others about their experiences with this important issue and ask them how they feel about the organization relative to this issue.  Ask them for their help and commitment to getting the issue right.



Hear and Be Heard


As humans, we want to be known.  Share your stories and get the ball rolling.  And if you don’t create a room full of best friends, at least you’ll be start feeling more connected and feel better about working together.


Need to Build Connections in Your Workplace?


Contact Kelly Vandever for help!  770-597-1108.


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