Friends at work

I don’t have any friends at work.

Don’t feel sorry for me though, because probably neither do you.

20121009-132212.jpgPeople act as if they have friends at work though. They go on lunches, team away days, team nights out. They buy birthday cards and all sign it. If there’s a baby born then booties and mittens will be bought.


You leave work. A year later are you still going on the nights out? Still signing the cards, buying the baby booties? Five years later can you remember their names? Ten years later can you even recall their faces?


People do form some friendships at work, ones that last longer than their working together. People meet, marry and divorce through work. It happens.
If you ring a colleague up as your mum has died, they’re your friend.
If a colleague rings you up when your mum has died, then they’re your friend.
If you just sit next to them at work, they’re your colleague, no matter how many work-social events you go on together. See the difference?


If they didn’t pay you to come in and sit next to them, would you? For free?

The Systems Thinking Lesson
The relationships most people have at work with people loved or loathed, are either irrelevant to the work, or caused by the work.

  • Irrelevant to the work. 95% of the variation in the quality of work is down to the system not the people in the system. Concentrating on their relationships to build a team is meaningless.
  • Caused by the work.. The strength of a teams functioning is not a result of the relationships in the team, it is a cause of the relationships. Help the team function better by creating a better system, and any subsequent bon homie is a pleasant side effect.

Every workplace I’ve worked in where there are distinctly separate sections where a section does work which it hands on to a second separate section…all loathed each other. There was a bad relationship between the individuals on both sides. Each blamed the other for the poor functioning of the whole system. Think of the TV program The Apprentice, in each task they split a team in two in different locations, who have to work well together, but because they are split, inevitably end up bitching and blaming the other half they aren’t in.

There’s no reason you can’t like the people at work, be friendly with them and marry them if you really want. But the thinking that it’s about relationships is wrong. Attempts to ignore the system and concentrate on the relationships ignores the lessons of Mr “95%” Deming.

These people were paid to be friends at work. You are not.

This entry was posted in deming, psychology, systems thinking, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Friends at work

  1. Lisa says:

    Excellent! Completely agree with you, but sometimes a bit of ‘friendly’ banter helps to dull the pain however insincere


  2. Alex H. says:

    Love this. For the past week I’ve been worrying about not having any friends at work, but after reading this, I think I’m okay with that. I don’t think I would sit next to my coworkers if I wasn’t being paid to do it.
    Thank you!


  3. “The strength of a teams functioning is not a result of the relationships in the team, it is a cause of the relationships.” True, dat.

    Very nicely done.


  4. Sparky says:

    Have to disagree with you on this post. I believe relationships (which are not the same thing as friendships) are building blocks for better systems. If your system has a constraint, how effective are you going to be at removing it if you cannot get along with the actors that are creating it or responsible for removing it?

    Meg Wheatley says, “the primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another”. Complex adaptive systems are all about the “unknown”.

    As an engagement practitioner, the first thing I will look at when helping an organization challenge a difficult problem is the relationships in the group.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      THIS is an interesting question, too good to be wasted in a comment reply.

      I’m backed up with more zombie posts til a week on Friday, but after THAT’S been cleared up there’s space for a post on this, comprising the usual glib throwaway sarcasm and top-notch anecdata. To be continued!

      Thanks for the comment!


  5. John Rudkin says:

    I can relate to this. I’ve always prided myself in retaining long term friendships with coworkers over my working life, but alas, in my most recent employment I was made redundant in a most disagreeable way. I discovered friends have short memories when it comes to protecting their interests – something easily used by those who want to manipulate things.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s