There should be a big difference between our friends and the people with whom we're friendly, but many of us struggle to make the distinction. We may refer to everyone in our circle as friends, but all too often if we don't see them or they fall off our radar we hardly notice or query their absence.
Co-workers and colleagues can fall into that category. How often does someone we once worked closely with leave the business and later return for a social visit, only for us to realise that we've nothing to talk about after a relatively short space of time? Our friendship was primarily based on shared business considerations.
But what about those times when we manage and work closely with a team of people. We see them regularly, supervise their work. Should our staff also be our friends?
Few people enjoy confrontation or having to bring other people to order. But there are ways of managing a team without requiring you to choose between being popular and their friend or being viewed as heavy-handed.
- Start as you mean to go on. Set the tone of your relationship with your staff from the outset. Yes, be friendly, respectful, empathic, but also remember that there's a job to be done, targets to be reached and money to be earned. Be firm about time-keeping, regular lateness, lame excuses for unfinished pieces of work. Being supportive of individual circumstances is important, but if one person appears to be the constant favourite it can cause resentment amongst everyone else.
- Keep channels of communication open. Being micro-managed is often de-motivational. No one wants a boss who's constantly looking over their shoulder, assessing and commenting on their work. That said, you need to be aware of what your staff are doing each day, where they're up to in terms of work load and problem-solving. Be clear about when you're available for staff to talk through issues and problems. For some managers, it's when their office doors are open.
- Be aware of the dangers of over-sharing your personal stuff. As their manager, your staff are not there to advise or counsel you. Over-sharing can blur the lines of your relationship and make it difficult if ever you need to discipline or have firm conversations with them. It's good to share some personal information so that they're able to relate to you as a person and know that you connect and empathise with them and their situations, but have a cut-off point, a limit on how far that goes.
- Have boundaries in place. Some managers like to go for social drinks with their staff, but leave after a couple of hours, putting some money behind the bar, so paying for the next few rounds of drinks. It lets staff know that they're friendly and thoughtful, whilst also retaining a slightly detached presence.
- Have regular staff appraisals, so reinforcing your role as their manager. This allows for a two-way exchange about where your staff are regarding their competency and progression, how they feel about their role, plus those areas where you'd like them to focus and improve.
- Have regular staff meetings as a group, which you host and set the agenda, perhaps after conferring with staff. This enables the team dynamic to be assessed and improved. When staff feel comfortable and listened to you may find that they have great ideas and suggestions about improving existing practices. Encourage them to be loyal and invested in the business.
- If a staff member is uncooperative, perhaps begrudgesyou your role, maybe wanted it for themselves, it's important to avoid taking their attitude personally. Worrying about it or trying to win them over only serves to exacerbate the problem and solves nothing. Set them tasks with deadlines and arrange regular meetings to check on their progress. Be fair, whilst treating everyone the same.
- Avoid using appeasatory or conciliatory tones to delegate work. No apologies! Instead be more matter-of-fact, polite but managerial, as in, 'this needs doing, would you be able to finish it by Wednesday, please?' Then you can document the discussion and note the Wednesday deadline.
- Make any reluctance or inability to deliver the work their problem. Ask questions, as to what the problem is, why they've not delivered, what needs to happen to help them succeed. Depending on the size of your business there may be options to transfer an unruly staff member, offer retraining or even eventually involve Human Resources and a disciplinary procedure.
- Make sure that you practice good self-care, especially during times of stress. Regular breaks improve work efficiency, by allowing you to mentally and physically detach, take a walk outside, some water, a piece of fruit and return feeling refreshed afterwards. A healthy diet, good exercise and sleeping plan, switching off each evening and allowing yourself a couple of hours to wind down before bed are all ways to ensure that you support a healthy mind and body.
- Don't underestimate the importance of spending time with your real friends and family, having fun with the very special people in your life. Enjoying time relaxing, being yourself, being carefree makes the long hours and personal investment in your business role worthwhile. Those relationships are often an important part of why you work so hard.
And remember, management hired you for this role, so clearly believe in you. Any new role is a challenge. Relish the opportunity to scare yourself a little, learn new skills and grow. Finding constructive ways to interact with your team is a tough skill to learn, but it's also an important step towards your future career progression.