Closer than the average co-worker

Appropriate doses of camaraderie can boost office productivity

The company picnic. The office Christmas party. Those functions are more than just the company’s way of thanking employees for their hard work. They’re also designed to increase the level of intimacy between co-workers, so everyone can work even better together.

“Workplace intimacy shouldn’t be confused with sexuality,” cautions B.J. Walker, director of community operations for the Illinois Department of Human Services in both Chicago and Springfield. Walker defines intimacy as genuine caring; being concerned about and considerate of fellow team members, as the team works together to accomplish a common goal.

“Intimacy between co-workers and colleagues begins with a firm commitment to get to know the people behind the mask of their job, title, role or function,” says Walker. “Getting behind the mask requires moving past the facade of formality and corporate behavior.”

True, a professional environment requires that there be a clear understanding of personal boundaries. But in today’s work culture of consensus management and group projects, it’s almost impossible to meet high expectations without sharing common goals and values with the person in the trenches next to you helping you get the job done.

Walker disagrees with critics who suggest that intimacy diminishes professionalism and, thus, efficiency. She contends that some measure of camaraderie is an integral component of
organizational effectiveness. After all, “we all work better with people we know,” she maintains.

The following steps help create camaraderie in the workplace:

  • Build trust. Trust is a crucial component in creating intimate work relationships, and building it requires the efforts of all team members. Members must make a commitment to an unchanging belief system that places a common cause or standard ahead of individual agendas or gains. The team must also work to eliminate any opportunities in which a member’s best interest takes precedence over the common cause.
  • Express your true self. Honest and forthright communication must be practiced among all team members. Hidden agendas, withheld information and manipulated discussions hinder intimacy by undermining team efforts. Expressing yourself involves exposing what you know, believe, feel and intend to do-there are no secrets. Discourage members from trying to be politically correct. Instead, have them concentrate on being polite and courteous. Encourage them to care enough to select words that accurately reflect how they feel and the message they want conveyed.
  • Take it slowly. Camaraderie isn’t instantaneous; it takes time. While intimacy offers heightened team spirit, group cohesiveness and unity, it also increases individual vulnerability. Expect hesitancy, doubt, resistance and even hostility-they’re the usual reactions and feelings that accompany change. But keep movement steady by setting a pace that every member understands they must follow for the good of the team.
  • Keep your eyes open. Don’t fall blindly in love; acknowledge that there will be problems. Watch for any abuse of the rules by members who only want information for gain. Keep your eyes open so you can recognize when something is wrong. And when something goes wrong-address it.
  • Be willing to “kiss and make up.” Managing conflict effectively is essential to creating and maintaining camaraderie. Every relationship has
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