Everybody Knows Your Name

Group Of Friends Having Outdoor Barbeque At HomeHow well do your employees – team members in your organization – know each other? If you want a work environment that values positive relationships as well as top performance, this is an important question to consider.

Years ago I studied the W.L. Gore company. Their unique culture, based on a holacracy (no bosses), has served that company well since it’s founding over 50 years ago.

In discussions with key Gore leaders, I learned about another practice they embrace to this day. Their functional teams and plants are no larger than 300 people. Why? “When those units get too large, nobody knows your name,” one VP explained. “In smaller units, people feel more involved and connected.”

In a 2010 interview with Gary Hamel, Gore CEO Terri Kelly says that in big business units or plants, “the sense of ownership, the involvement in decision-making, the feeling that I can make an impact starts to get diluted.”

Tom Peters tells the story of a company that was facing a complicated project with aggressive deadlines. The company had brought in experts from other organizations from around the globe. The project team was really struggling to get clear on how they’d work together, on how they’d blend their various skills to deliver this project on time, under budget, and with a minimum of drama. Tom says, “They discovered a remarkable tool to get people to cooperate. The tool? A BBQ!”

Peters describes how this classic casual meal together helped team members learn about their project team peers away from the demands and pressures of the project. They learned about each others’ passions, hobbies, and stories. The BBQ’s worked so well, they held them each week. These BBQ’s became this team’s “community foundation.” Relationships improved. Cooperation improved. Solutions were arrived at and implemented.

Later, after the project was delivered to rave reviews, the company credited the team’s success to those BBQ’s.

My son Andy experienced the power of casual social gatherings recently. He’s a huge board game fan. He found peers at his job (in a big box home improvement store) who were also board game fans – so, he invited six people over for an evening of board games.

They had a ball. He said everyone “knew” each other from work but they hadn’t spent any time connecting or visiting beyond work responsibilities. They loved the games and truly enjoyed their new friends. Some had worked at the store for years and had never made these connections.

How can leaders of teams create a common bond among team members? I don’t think its mandatory that all team members are best buddies, but there is no question that common goals and shared values boost productivity, engagement, and service. Here’s proof.

No matter how large their organization, leaders can boost connection and cooperation by intentionally building community. Whether its BBQ’s or other activities together, such events help people know each other beyond their work roles. Those bonds can help accelerate cooperative interaction, innovative solutions, and meaningful contributions together.

What do you have to lose?

How did your best bosses create common goals and shared values? In what ways does your current team connect beyond work roles – and how does it help work get done? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Monkey Business – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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