A few years back, a couple of IBEX staff thought it would be a great idea to have a “nagashi somen” (flowing noodle) party for lunch. We set up a bamboo trough in the parking lot and put a garden hose in one end. Then we all stood around the trough with chopsticks and tried to snag pre-cooked balls of noodles as they floated by. For those of us not adept with chopsticks, it was a challenge (not to mention a great source of amusement for those who were more skilled!). Once the noodles were snagged, you plopped the noodles into your soup and – voilà – lunch was served. Later, we tried to pluck cherry tomatoes from the trough. For desert, we started with gummy worms but then it degraded into a series of experiments with just about anything edible we could find in the office. People got into it and the laughs were huge.
The prep for this event took more than a few staff hours. While the company happily allocated some office hours to the project, much of the prep was actually done at home on personal time by a couple members of the team.
When I thanked the chief organizer, I asked why she did so much. She said that she loved doing fun things with and for her friends at work, and that she was thankful that everyone had so much fun.
Events like this at IBEX are a sign of a very healthy and engaged workplace. One of the most controversial topics in the Gallup Q12 (12 questions that accurately predict employee engagement) is the statement: “I have a best friend at work”. Gallup has found that agreement with this statement correlates irrefutably with almost every measure of safety, productivity, and low staff turnover. Despite this, many executives can’t get their heads around trying to encourage friendship and camaraderie in the workplace. The funny thing is that many executives take lots of time for lunches and socializing with their peers, thereby fulfilling the same human need for close relationships at work that they ignore when it comes to their staff.
Gallup explains that people who disagree strongly with this statement are almost universally lonely at work, whereas people who agree strongly tend to have not just a best friend, but also a strong social bond to the workplace. This social bond leads to people sharing more candid information and to offering more meaningful workplace suggestions and opinions without feeling threatened. It also creates a measurable emotional connection with – and loyalty to – the organization’s customers. It seems customers feel the positive vibes.
Fostering friendships at work for IBEX means putting people together in physical spaces where they can do their work and quickly access their teammates for a quick chat or quick laugh. It also means having daily stand-up meetings where the sharing of personal news is encouraged and laughter is part of the equation, in addition to business. The other key is holding social events (like the flowing noodles lunch) that let us get to know one another better and strengthen friendships.
It’s not a party every day at IBEX, but we have made a conscious effort to create the conditions for friendships to blossom while work is getting done.