Alice was a busybody. As the season for her show went on, it became part of the script. Jokes were written about her over-involvement in the lives of her co-workers. Yet, in some of those same episodes, Mel would tell Alice to get involved with Vera and Flo (later Belle and Jolene). It’s a mixed message and one in which, for a television show, ended up in confusion and comedy. In our work, it is more often the case that is ends up in confusion and confrontation.
Somewhere in the midst of our drive towards culture advancement and attention, we may have signed up our managers to be counselors and buddies. In order to provide a healthy environment, managers may have been cornered into being friends with their team. Is that okay?
Think about some of our initiatives – open door policies, open workspaces, open communication, corporate transparency. Could they have an unintended consequence of “relational dive”? Relational dive is the act of moving deeply with another at a quick clip. In this context, it may be better described as a forced relational dive. If a consequence of our team building and culture push is to put leadership in a position to be diving deeply with staff, are we ready for that? Are those managers?
From a consideration standpoint, it should be noted that those initiatives mentioned are not problematic in and of themselves. There has been some great advancement in talent management, specifically retention, succession planning and skill development, due to these initiatives. The culture where you are may have been healthily infused with enthusiasm, cooperation and creativity as a result. Keep it going!
And yet, there still can be consequences that we did not plan for or consider. Forced friendship may be one in this case.
In the past month, I have heard from quite a few managers who are feeling as though their job requires them to be friends with their team. They’ve been made to feel this way, in large part, due to the thinking that good culture is full of camaraderie, team-building and warmth, which feels like friendship. They, also, don’t want to be the department with turnover issues or, worse, poor 360 feedback.
We may have made the line too definitive. Either you’re liked or not. Not being liked is always a problem. Therefore, the manager must be the problem. But a manager has to enforce structure, policy and rule, too, in order to get work done. It’s not his/her fault the “bad guy/girl” enforcement has to happen at times. And because we’ve made the manager be a friend, it damages the “friendship” because authority is inserted.
I have read subordinate reviews of managers where they tear apart this person as unyielding, a dictator and not good with people. And upon examination into those details, some of those managers were addressing lateness and absence issues, poor work product production and failing to meet corporate standards for the position. When we set managers up to be friends, these addressed issues are no longer work-related, but extremely personal. How could a friend treat me like that?
Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with finding a friend or two along your career journey. That’s the blessing of working with so many people. You’re bound to find someone who shares interests, humor, beliefs, etc. and with whom you can really talk. That’s a joy! Embrace those few opportunities. But the reality is, not everyone you work with is going to be your friend.
In a world of Facebook “friends”, we’ve watered down that word considerably. It’s ideal that managers (all staff for that matter) be friendly to those around them. There most certainly is a difference, however, between being friendly and being friends. Some companies are struggling with the difference here and, as such, have confused it for their managers. Managers should be should be good listeners, but not counselors. Managers should be good project planners, but not enablers. Managers should be warm and inviting, but not doormats. And many of these tensions come out of a desire for great culture.
Forced friendship is not genuine culture. It’s merely a feeling, and experience tells us that basing anything on feelings only is a setup to fail.
It’s understandable to want a robust, collaborative community. Go for it! Just look at how managers are being told, whether in words or not, to carry that out and at what tools you’ve given them.
Managers should not be the Alice-archetype of a busybody, but we, also, don’t want to exasperate them so much that they move into the Flo-archetype of “kiss my grits,” no matter how much we might want to say that to some.