Since leaving full time education and entering the rat race of full time employment (and now running my own company) there’s been a term I truly detest: work friends. It’s a vacuous, hollow phrase used to try and put a name to the relationship between yourself and the people you work beside. To call them just colleagues would be insulting yet to call them friends would somehow be somehow deemed too close or too personal and thus we come up with the inaccurate concept of the ‘work friend’, a term designed to fool ourselves into nothing more than a false sense of camaraderie.
I’m by no means a laconophile and, in fact, I find some of the Spartan cultural undertakings somewhat distasteful (you know exactly what I’m talking about – although it is worth stating that the exact nature of Spartan man-boy love is still not entirely clear). However, regardless of any apparent pederasty that may have occurred in ancient Sparta, one thing that is widely recognised and accepted is the potency of their military due to not only many years of study and practice but also by the close bond that existed between each syssitia. Spartan hoplites were not just acquaintances, comrades, peers, or work friends, they were inseparable and unshakable brothers in arms.
it is worth stating that the exact nature of Spartan man-boy love is still not entirely clear
Break down the boundaries – all of them
I used to scoff at the concept of team building seeing it as nothing more than a silly managerial cliche, a patronising concept dreamt up by bored middle-managers trying to justify their existence. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, I still don’t exactly buy into the whole idea of forcing your employees to partake in hackneyed corporate exercises organised under nothing more than a blatant HR facade but the fact is that encouraging and facilitating the opportunity for people to get out and bond with each other is incredibly important. Indeed, I believe that the ultimate goal shouldn’t be just to let company staff get to know each other but rather to become true and honest friends.
Of course establishing relationships isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, especially when many work situations are due to circumstance rather than an individual’s choice. Often the general feeling and atmosphere of a working environment can play a huge part in the immediate connection between staff but sometimes it needs to be additionally encouraged by current employees with the aim being to break down barriers, swiftly and completely. Going out for drinks, dinner, bowling or just stripping naked in front of each other (I’ve had mixed results with this) all play their part in the bonding ritual – whatever avenue you pursue, the aim is end up being as comfortable as you possibly can be around the people you work with and, ideally, feel like you have a true friendship with too.
Better workflow, better products, better everything
And the results of being real friends with the people you work with? Immense. You start to actually enjoy going into work, you start to enjoy the company of people you, frankly, spend most of your waking lives with (I worked out that – excluding time spent sleeping – I’d actually spent more time with my one follow programmers in my previous digital agency than I had with my wife – a deeply terrifying thought) and, above all else, your work improves because you actually care about your environment and the other people in it.
Workflow improves as you’re able to relax and act naturally, giving voice to your thoughts and opinions without fear of chastise or rebuke, making it easier to interact and collaborate. This is particularly relevant in the web industry which often relies heavily on the interaction between several different parties such as account managers, designers and developers. The closer the connection between each department, the closer the bond and understanding each has for one another, the easier and quicker the workflow becomes.
Web products also benefit tremendously from a stronger relationship between team members because you actually care about your team mates opinion and respect his or her skill whilst feeling comfortable enough around them to discuss your honest feelings about aspects such as functionality and design. The better you know the people you work with, the better and more efficiently you can work through all of the problems and issues you encounter because you can anticipate and understanding their response.
Spartans, the ultimate in team building
The Spartans succeeded in warfare not only because of training and discipline but because of a strong philosophy and ethos that centred around the concept of total, unwavering camaraderie. Fellow soldiers weren’t simply colleagues to be tolerated for eight hours a day but family who should be protected at all costs. It was the lack of emotional and personal barriers that allowed the Spartans to be completely free and open around each other, reducing conflict, improving their efficiency, and increasing the quality of their own special product and service – warfare. They were the epitome in team building and an example from which modern day businesses could learn a lot from and do well to mimic. Although perhaps without the man-boy love.