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Let’s All Play Nice in the Sandbox, Please!

Yikes! Workplace relationships and working environment! Wouldn’t it be great if we could say that everyone gets along, no one is pushy, selfish, or inconsiderate and that love just makes the world go round. Unfortunately, that is not the case; the only thing that makes the world go round is inertia (science lesson, anyone?)! So, yes, there has been, is, and will be conflict in the workplace from time to time. Yet again, this is not new knowledge, however, every day there seem to be better and trendier ways of trying to “fix” us all. Pretty much every website out there has programs that various companies are trying to sell, and basically they say the same thing: “You’re all broken but we can fix you with our easy 10 step program” (or something equally tedious).

Now, to be frank, not all of this is foolishness. If there are problems on the job, this does create very real difficulties for business (not to mention individual stress levels - can you say, “I’m gonna stroke out in a minute?” It is very important to have a staff that can work together in the best interests of the company and, you know, we all have had experience with a few people who are in near mortal combat with each other, won’t talk or exchange ideas or have anything to do with each other (lucky if there is no cockroach magically appearing in the coffee, right?). Does anyone really think this helps business? Might there be a chance that something gets missed or information has not been shared (you know the old ‘try to make the other guy look bad’ school of though)? However, there are very real things that can be done to improve the situation and most don’t really need a bunch of “specialists” to set things right. Nonetheless, companies are busy places and managers are focused on running those businesses so that might leave little time or even any ability to really understand how to improve toxic situations that can crop up.

Here are a few of the most important things that need to be working like clockwork in your company in order to “optimize” and “maximize” the business environment (Ugh! Hate those words because they mean nothing - just wanted to throw them in there for fun).  Every boss, if she/he really thinks about it would say that respect, professionalism, and trust are key to success in the workplace. But why? Easy answer. As long as the boss has hired competent people (if not, then this ALL falls apart), one hopes there will be respect for that individual’s ability. If there is, then a more professional environment is automatically created. If people feel their opinion counts and that they are listened to, they will treat others the same way. This cuts out the bickering and infighting. This also leads to trust among employees and this is vital, vital, vital! When there is trust, people start relaxing and feeling more comfortable about saying what they really mean. As well, they don’t act defensively anymore (you know…looking over their shoulders to see if the Secret Police is there). When they feel comfortable, they will laugh more, get to know each other better, and likely lose their various biases and prejudices. Familiarity does not breed contempt; it breaks down barriers. This means they will share eagerly, offer friendly suggestions, and become more creative when it comes to problem solving. How is this not the greatest thing since chocolate?

Truth be told, everything comes from the top and trickles down. The powers that be in the company must be able to identify problems and also recognize that there is significant value in changing problematic office culture (if the boss is the problem, find another job, fast! Ok -maybe not realistic). Scads and scads of studies have shown that when there is good communication, there is better productivity and more innovation. It also means that there is less conflict and problems get resolved in a calm manner. Oftentimes, the work day is filled to the brim with deadlines and last minutes crises which ratchet up the stress levels to near explosion status (like the countdown for a space launch).

The trick, of course, is how to achieve this blissful state. Well, actually, everyone needs to take responsibility. First of all, in this very diverse country of ours, there is never any room for discrimination so if you see it, please talk about it (misunderstandings are often at the root of poor behaviour). Always treat others with respect (even if you feel they don’t deserve it) - at the very least be courteous and do no harm. Be free with your praise at what a colleague or employee has done well (we all do better with praise) and keep your mouth closed and don’t gossip when they haven’t. Be willing to look at your own strengths and weaknesses and ask for guidance when needed (growth comes with a willingness to make changes where necessary). Take responsibility for your own actions- own the mistakes, people! And, of course, laugh, laugh a lot and loudly! Humour is one of the best tonics for almost everything. None of this is complicated, yet often we all fall into bad habits and just need to be poked and encouraged a bit. The difference can be monumental.

One final piece that can help ensure a more productive work environment is by feeling that you belong to a team (where all horses are going in the same direction – up! Ok- no flying horses). It actually is a good idea to, periodically, have workshops that emphasize this. There are, as mentioned earlier, many companies who lead these very types of workshops and they can be as simple or elaborate as management wishes (and can afford). However, even a one or two hour session can help change the office culture and can promote collaboration. This should occur on a regular basis (maybe a couple of times a year) and must be relevant to your business model and be meaningful. No one wants to waste time playing silly embarrassing games that simply try to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about each other. Activities that require solving a puzzle, a problem, or creating/building something together are ideal for developing a collaborative environment. There are scores of these teambuilding companies out there. Listed at the end of this article is a company that sounds decent (not a plug- they just sound like they’ve done their research and know what they’re doing). At least worth checking out.

The ultimate goal of a business is to, of course, do business and do it well and that means making sure the customer gets what they need; however, in order to get there, a smart business owner will look after his/her employees first. Highly successful president and founder of the Virgin Group (oh, they have about 400 companies) Richard Branson believes this wholeheartedly; he has said that one should look after employees first and then they will, in turn, look after the customers. Pretty much says it all.