Workplace Gathering a Meaningful Ritual

One of my former clients, a small department of a large organization, engages in a morning coffee klatch – staff arrive on or before 8 AM, turn on their computers, and then gather around the table in a small lunch room for coffee, tea, cereal, and/or a variety of goodies available on the table. (There’s always a generous assortment of baked goods for nibbling and emotional nourishment.)

So what did you do last night?

Conversation varies: about family & pets, current events, movies and reality TV, as well as updates on meetings, customer successes and concerns, and current work issues. (A phone sits on the table so any incoming calls can be taken during this time.) The morning session continues until around 8:30-8:40 AM, and then staff return to their desks.

As a consultant/extended team member, I was welcome to take a place at the table whenever I visited. While this informal socialization seemed to give staff a late work start, the work always got done on time and no customers (external and internal) were ignored. Even in stressful times (and trust me, there were several based on the nature of the work), the team pulled together … . primarily due to the departmental culture created by Peg, the group manager, who’s a regular participant in the morning coffee klatch.

NOT a waste of time!

There is real value to this type of ritual beyond just a social gathering. According to Arizona State’s W.P. Carey business school management Professor Blake Ashforth, such activities should be encouraged because they can strengthen connections among employees who work together and create organizational goodwill. In his article, Water Cooler Talk Keeps Organizational Culture Real, Ashforth writes: “People are social animals and want to feel a sense of belonging with other people. How they feel about their employer is largely dependent on how they feel about their tribe – their boss and immediate co-workers – rather than the organization’s larger culture and objectives as dictated by upper management.”

Especially today, when “work and home increasingly blend together in an always-on business climate … there is still organizational pressure to keep one’s home life from interfering with one’s work life. Yet, knowing coworkers’ hobbies and passions, what sports their kids play and if they’re caring for a sick parent is precisely what Ashforth says builds bonds that strengthen corporate groups.”

Ashforth advocates that organizations recognize the importance of their smallest local groups (“tribes”) and find ways to: 1) make those groups meaningful to their members and 2) connect those groups to the larger organization.

Peg intuitively practices what Ashforth talks about. She knows it takes more than just a singular coffee klatch activity. She’s successful because she truly cares about her staff the whole day, every day.

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