Even if you’re not the boss – there’s still a lot you can do to change things.
No matter how much you love or loath your job, it’s widely agreed that it’s the people you work with who will make or break your 9-5.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be part of one of those fully functioning, machine teams that the pros in the business world like to refer to as having a successful ‘culture’. That ‘win together, lose together’ kind of vibe. But, if you’re not so fortunate, you’ll find yourself flying solo through a shit storm of needless emails and unnecessary meetings, only finding solace in lunch breaks and the countdown to the end of the day.
In those situations, it’s totally okay to rely on your colleagues, the ones in the same sinking ship as you, to lift you out of that slump. Or at the very least sit in that slump with you for a little bit. The benefits of having allies at work extend beyond the mid-morning bitching session by the coffee machine and having someone to drag to the pub at the end of the day, though. It can actually affect how well you and your place of work operates. We’re not saying it’s the only thing that’ll influence doing well in your job (and actually wanting to be there) but the dynamic between you and your colleagues is a pretty big deal.
Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code: The Secrets Of Highly Successful Groups, has found that having and being part of a certain type of culture is integral to workplace success. After having spent much of his career studying high performers, he turned his attention to group dynamics. “We’ve all been in groups that are great and we’ve all been in groups where we’ve got that feeling of connection and cohesion,” he tells The Debrief. But what he wanted to work out was what it was specifically about being in those groups that seemed to unlock the type of high performance that CEOs and senior people like to wang on about.
Contrary to how many of us behave within tricky office hierarchies (because no place of work is without its politics) the key isn’t being forceful, aggressive, or the one who shouts loudest about pay and promotions, it’s about letting your guard down a bit.
“When we’re at work, it is default setting to not want to make a mistake, not want to look bad. You don’t want to be vulnerable,” Coyle explains. “When you visit a successful group, what you will find is people are constantly sending signals of vulnerability. You’ll find that leaders will often open up and talk really openly about their weakness. You’ll find that they also have habits where they will directly circle up what went wrong and talk about those things that are really difficult to talk about.”
It’s not the sort of thing that we’re normally receptive to doing in high-pressure environments. Especially when your place of work is intimidating and competitive by nature, and the prospect of losing a job after admitting what you’re not so good at is terrifying and lends itself to imposter syndrome. But Coyle says that creating a culture of sincere vulnerability – not in a lay your life on the line kind of way, but rather an ‘I feel comfortable enough to talk about what is good AND bad, what has gone well AND awfully’ manner – is what helps you and your team actually get shit done well. Forgive the cliché, but it is all about trust, you guys.
“Chemistry bonds get formed in discreet moments. That discreet moment of sending that signal in a really clear way creates a sense of belonging. So, if you reflect on groups that you were a part of, there are some points that you would have got that signal. Tuning into that and knowing how to send that signal in an authentic way, is one of the important things you can do in the workplace – its sort of like a language you learn to speak and it’s about,” Coyle muses.
“Culture is not about big magical things that you possess. It is about small signals in which big messages are delivered.”
He explains that those signals could be anything from asking your boss for help, encouraging a colleague to teach you something that they know how to do and you don’t, to simply just not having your guard up all the time. “Culture is not about big magical things that you possess. It is about small signals in which big messages are delivered.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. ‘I’m just a cog in a corporate machine that doesn’t really care, how TF can I make a difference to my working environment with this culture business?’ I get it – feeling comfortable in the office doesn’t happen overnight. But, Coyle explains that despite the looming shadow of leadership, career ladders and our habitual reliance on hierarchy, a lot of culture development depends on the people closet to you. The middle guys. “A lot depends on the 15ft around you,” explains Coyle. “You can affect that.”
If you ever needed an excuse to organise more after work drinks or cheeky long lunches, this is it. “There’s a really underrated power in daily simple rituals and many of them are around food and drink that groups can have together to spark innovation and to spark strong cultures,” he adds. “Those small rituals of who you get coffee with each day, who you hang out with at the water cooler, who you go get a pint with after work, ends up being really powerful opportunities to build culture.”
Your boss might be important, sure, but they’re not the whole picture when it comes to directing the tone of your working environment. You and your colleagues have control too. And while it might not be in your nature to suddenly become BFFs with the people whose heads you have to stare at over the top of computer screens all day, investing a little time on being at least comrades in arms could make a huge difference to how you feel about being stuck there five days a week.
Words: Jazmin Kopotsha
Photos: Getty Images
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.