Working with and leading friends at work
This is part 2 of my short series on friendships at work. If you have not read part 1, you can find it here: I met all my friends at work
Over the last few years, my friendships at work have grown in numbers and in quality. Colleagues who were mere acquaintances have grown into close friends. Some of these friends I never actively work with, but with some others I do on a daily basis. And when I say some of my colleagues are my friends, I also mean that I see them outside work for a drink or to hang out with their family. Over the years, I have had to learn to navigate friendships and work relationships interchangeably in a work environment. In addition, as I have taken on managerial positions, I have had to learn how to manage and lead friends. Let me elaborate on both:
Working with friends
Working with friends is not always easy, but there are many things one can do to make working with friends simple and enjoyable. In my case, when I work with friends I always make sure the following 3 rules are followed:
Explicitly leaving friendships at the door: when on a project or on a task with colleagues who I am also friends with, I often explicitly remind myself (and the friend(s)) that this is work so our friendship should be left at the door and we should focus on the task at hand. I put emphasis on the explicit part as I have learned the hard way that not being clear can lead to conflict and confusions as expectations might differ from the different parties. Someone could find me less friendly than usual and confused by my directness in a work setting and wonder if our friendship is being jeopardized. Therefore, I make sure to be explicit when working with friends that now we work, we can be friends right after.
Being explicit about my working persona: as my wife says it, sometimes when I work, I put on my work voice. Although I am myself at all times, my working persona can be way more serious than my home/friend persona. I make sure my friends get to know both sides of me so they are not surprised by either.
If conflict arises, we talk about it. If, for any reasons, conflict, disagreement or tension arise from working together, I make a point to talk about it. Sometimes, being friends with colleagues can create this gray zone where tension and discomfort can grow. It’s important to speak about any conflict or discomfort that arise from working together to make sure to work through it and preserve both the working relationship and the friendship.
Overall, working with friends requires great communication as the three points above show. Communication is key and if you can’t communicate well with your work friends, maybe they are not as close friends as you thought they were.
Managing and leading friends
As I have taken on managerial positions over the last few years, I have found myself in the more complex situation where I suddenly have had to manage and lead friends, which is more complicated than working with friends. I have had to learn how to do this without tempering my responsibilities and also making sure to sustain my friendships. I don’t think there is a secret magic recipe to manage friends and in some cases, the friendship will be impacted and diminished by the professional relationship… it happens. When that is said, here are the 5 things I do to manage and lead friends (in addition to the 3 presented above):
I believe the most important part of managing and leading friends is to accept my role in the equation and the power shift. This is something I found very hard at the beginning in my first managerial position. I didn’t want colleagues who were my friends to notice the shift in power and to feel like I was managing them. Honestly, this was a mistake. When you manage and lead friends, you need to accept the role you have and that your job is to manage and lead them.
Consistency and fairness: whether I manage colleagues who I am friends with or not, being consistent and fair is key. Friendships should never influence how I lead anyone in the team or the task I assign to people.
Being inclusive: although I am friends with some people, I am not friends with everyone. When that is said, in my managerial role, I make it a point to be inclusive with everyone. There should be no preferential treatment and it is critical everyone in my team feels welcomed, safe and included on the same level.
Tough decisions: although it isn’t always easy, I can't let friendships get in the way of tough decisions when I am at work. My professional responsibilities come first.
Having friends at work is still a good thing: over the years, I have learned that having friends at work is still great, even if I am in a managerial position. It allows me to have fun, enjoy my days at the office and create a space that feels friendly and safe for everyone.
Overall, I am a very strong advocate of work friendships. Creating working environments where being friends at work is common enables an increase in trust, better support systems for employees, better communication, a greater sense of belonging and in turn more happy and satisfied employees. We all spend way too much time working not to have fun and not to make friends at work. At least, that’s a firm belief of mine and one I hope modern workplaces embrace.