In today’s competitive business world, many companies are distinguished by their ability to innovate. Business leaders can do much to inspire creativity among their employees. Beyond creating diverse teams, leaders can cultivate an environment of trust in which employees feel comfortable putting outside-the-box ideas on the table. An environment of trust also promotes a friendly, collegial workplace where employees feel like they’re part of a team.
When employees feel a bond with each other, they work better together, are more productive, and can generate some truly innovative ideas. In addition, research indicates that getting along with one’s co-workers is a major part of job satisfaction. Managers and executives have a number of creative ways to increase bonding in the workplace. Below are just a few.
Make the office an open space.
When executives have their own suites, this creates a physical wall between employees and their leaders. These sorts of private offices reinforce the power dynamic already in play and minimize chances for bonding. Instead, leaders may want to position themselves directly among their employees. Many business leaders feel that it is important to be present and part of the team in order to serve it most effectively. By sitting close to employees they manage, leaders can join in on the exchange of ideas and play a key role in shaping office culture. When there is distance, such exchange is impossible. Of course, it is still necessary to have private space, but enclosed meeting rooms can serve this purpose. Open offices like this have proven effective at large companies like Hewlett-Packard and smaller startups like SOLS in New York.
Create a book club.
Book clubs are a great way to encourage bonding among teammates while also helping employees increase their knowledge of important topics in their profession, the company, or the industry at large. The book club can include various titles on business strategy, innovation, or any other relevant topic. By reading these books and discussing them, teams start to align their thinking and building a common vocabulary, which is critical for working effectively together. Through the book club, employees also begin exchanging ideas that could directly relate to the projects they are working on. The titles chosen can also help leaders relay their own vision for the company. By strategically selecting a particular book, leaders can convey how they make decisions, how they see the world, and what kind of difference they want the company to make. In addition, leaders can encourage employees to choose titles that are meaningful to them and to share what they learned with their team.
Start a fun side project.
Executives might occasionally grab a happy hour drink with their employees as a form of bonding, but the CEO of PhotoShelter takes it a step further by actually brewing his own beer and enlisting employees to help in the process. This sort of informal, fun project has a number of benefits. Since people from different parts of the company participate, they inevitably start talking about their projects, and “cross-pollination” of ideas occurs naturally. Beyond that, however, employees also begin to connect on a personal level and develop real friendships by doing something fun together. While a company microbrewery is not necessarily the best option for every organization, a company garden or similar fun project could help bring people together.
Host regular family-style dinners.
A great way to get members of a team to bond outside of work is to host a family-style dinner. Managers or executives can cook or cater, but another fun way to bond is to host a potluck and ask everyone to contribute a dish. The casual setting encourages people to put their professional guard down and can inspire great conversation and spark innovative ideas. The intimate dinner environment helps people connect on a personal level and reinforces the idea that the boss is just another member of the team. Depending on the timing of the dinner, managers can plan for other activities to follow, such as a team trip to see a play, a round of real or miniature golf, or even a night of karaoke. By placing the team in different environments, business leaders encourage members to bond on different levels.
Hold informal weekly progress meetings.
Often, progress meetings are something that employees dread, because they can be dry, boring, or even discouraging. To encourage bonding, business leaders should consider a more informal approach to progress meetings that resembles a discussion more than a lecture. As a whole, the team can celebrate victories and acknowledge failures. For example, the CEO of Bitly holds a regular “Cocktails & Dreams” meeting. Each week, one member of the team is nominated as bartender and everyone enjoys a cocktail while sharing what they accomplished that week and the challenges they anticipate in the future. By making the meeting informal, employees may feel more encouraged to share their opinions, and some interesting ideas can come forward during the conversations.