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Is it ok if we don’t talk about work?

Fostering togetherness in a blended working environment

One of the big problems facing organisations right now is keeping teams bonded when some people are back in the office, while others are working from home. In this month’s blog, Creative Coaching’s programme director Melissa Mehta, explores what’s important for strong teams in the new world.

Tania and I saw each other in person recently, for the first time in 20 months.  We’d planned a working dinner, to make the most of being in the same city. As we walked round the sunny cobbled streets of Lincoln, debating the age of the cathedral, it became apparent the agenda wasn’t as important as just being together.

“Are there things we need to talk about?”

“Probably, and is it ok if we don’t talk about work?”

It is not only ok, it’s crucial. And here’s why.

Making time to hear others’ stories, and offering our own, allows us to see each other as more than a job title. As we get to know the people we work with (even those we’ve known for years), the fear of the unknown (however small) evaporates. When we hear someone else's stories we make sense of their behaviours, their preferences. We see them as an entire human and not simply a role. Any feelings of difference ease, making it more comfortable to be (and work) together.   

We facilitated a breakfast meeting the next morning, and explored the importance of hearing each others’ stories. As so often happens when space is held, the perfect contribution came.

A leader in the local Muslim community explained a new Mosque had been planned in Lincoln, and the council had received 200 objections. He decided to go house-to-house and introduce himself. Some neighbours warmed up and chatted, swapping stories of their families. Others threw his leaflets in the dirt. The next time the council canvassed opinion, they received only 5 objections.

Around the breakfast tables, this story provoked goosebumps and shiny eyes. This example illustrated perfectly how being present and really listening to each other is crucial for building and maintaining team and community, of whatever kind.

This is why, if our interactions are nothing more than scheduled zoom meetings, with carefully held agendas, our teams won’t thrive.

We need to work out how to make space for story in our new blended working environment. If the water cooler conversation is only available for those in the office, we risk creating a two tier team - those who feel connected, and those who don’t.

I know organisations who adopted team-boosting strategies during lockdown, including a stand up comic booked for regular Friday night zoom-and-drinks, and informal lunchtime SLT catch ups across multiple sites. These events have continued to run as restrictions have lifted, as they generated unintended positive consequences.

Right now, there are many conversations going on privately, within organisations, about how to make blending working work for everyone.  Sharing these experiences and expertise more widely is likely to benefit everyone. We’re keen to explore this further.

Last year’s unpleasantly swift Covid-shift to home working and blended working highlighted what we already know. The beating heart of an organisation isn’t a series of problems to be solved, or items to tick off an agenda. It’s about its people, and how they are together. And the more we foster togetherness, the easier it is to solve those problems and rattle through that agenda.

As Melissa’s writes above, we’re keen to explore the topic of togetherness, and find out what’s working for your team right now. I’m opening up discussion on my LinkedIn profile today, so do drop by and take part if you feel the urge.

If you prefer to respond privately, do drop me a note on I'd love to hear from you.

Posted on Tue, November 02, 2021 in Coaching General Leadership Organisational Development Personal Development
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