Help Others Be Happier and Higher-Performing Together at Work

04/16/2015 06:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

2015-04-16-1429214522-7103881-camaderiessharedlearning.jpgStay sought-after by enabling others to proudly use their best talents together on things that matter to them. As William Butler Yeats wrote, "Because I helped to wind the clock, I come to hear it strike." Here's exactly how others have evoked that feeling and behavior:

One: "Pair Up" to Cut Down Silos And Scale Stronger Performance

"For a week or a month, two co-workers sit next to each other at their computers and work on a major assignment. This happens through the company. Employees are paired up with different people over time. According Sam McNerney, that's how Menlo Innovations' CEO Rich Sheridan overcomes what he dubs the "Towers of Knowledge" problem, where knowledge is siloed and skills are not redundant. Your company or club can benefit from this Project Pairing approach in at least three vital ways:

• Facilitates cross-training in a fast, natural and fun way.

• Enables individuals in different parts of your organization to get to know more people in meaningful ways, and discover each other's best talents and favorite interests.

• Prevents your organization from being hamstrung when a key expert leaves.


Cultivate collaboration, camaraderie, capacity to work through stress and friction, and opportunities for more ideas to bubble up as individuals mix it up more often via pairing.

Two: Use "Musical Chairs" To Foster Familiarity

At the evolving Downtown Project in Las Vegas, renowned Zappos' founder Tony Hsieh purposefully assigns parking spaces that are at least a block from where employees work to spur "collisions," meaning serendipitous meetings between individuals. Also, some startups and technology firms are periodically moving employees around so they sit next to different people.

2015-04-16-1429214635-2328979-ConversationforChangeblogimage.jpgWhy? Well, "A worker's immediate neighbors account for 40 percent to 60 percent of every interaction that worker has during the workday, from face-to-face chats to e-mail messages. There's only a 5 percent to 10 percent chance employees are interacting with someone two rows away," according to Ben Waber of Sociometric Solutions.

His firm uses sensors to analyze interaction patterns at work. Waber concludes, "If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything." See what happened at Kayak, Hubspot and other firms that played musical chairs. "Grouping workers by department can foster focus and efficiency," discovered MIT's Christian Catalini, yet "mixing them up can lead to experimentation and the potential for breakthrough ideas."

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community." ~ William James

Three: "Bungee Jump" Into Productively Engaging With Others

It costs companies one-fifth of an employee's annual salary to replace a worker who leaves, according to a 2012 study by the Center for American Progress think tank.

Tip: To foster retention and happy involvement in any kind of paid or volunteer work, arrange for people to collaborate in small groups, and periodically switch groups and their roles within them. That way they can explore new sides of one another and "keep partnerships fresh like a healthy marriage," discovered Stanford sociologist Daniel McFarland, who found a second benefit: rotating leadership roles helps everyone involved learn new skills.

Google encourages employees to take "bungee" assignments for three months to one year in different areas of the company. That way they gain new skills and find out whether they like a new job (or are good at it) before committing to it. "Most staffers return to their original jobs with new knowledge and experiences to share with their workmates, ideally fostering new energy into their collaborations, creativity within their original groups and job satisfaction for themselves," concluded McFarland.

Also, after tracking the pattern of enduring faculty collaborations of newly hired, untenured faculty members over a 15-year period, McFarland found that the enduring ones happen where collaborators find or develop new points of complementarity.

"The surviving personal ties are those with a degree of similarity so we can communicate but a degree of difference so we can plumb the relationship for additional value and skills one of us may not yet possess," McFarland says.

Ongoing collaboration, mutual mentoring and other kinds of mutual support feel productive and satisfying. Yet periodically seek a new sweet spot of shared interest to keep the relationship thriving like a healthy marriage.

Notice how open and proactive your partner(s) are to seeking renewed complementarity, and around what topics so you can see if they still match your priorities

Four: Set the Scene for Deeper Sharing

As McFarland said, "Cocktail parties encourage people to meet one another and expand their networks, but it takes retreats and team-building exercises to encourage trust, communication, and interdependence among group members. It also requires a willingness to rotate your expertise and roles in relationships, so that you can learn new sides to one another and engage in fresh experiences."

Also, have your organization host both internal-only and also by-invitation events that involve employees or members and potentially complementary individuals from outside the organization. Design some of those events for faster matchups for individuals with shared interests to discover each other.

• Use a two-step "lean-then-loose" approach to an event to optimize attendees' chances for making meaningful connections:

Part One, Lean:

In a ballroom or other large room, host a speed consulting or a speed "find the sweet spot" round table or a "Meet the Pros" roundtable. In the roundtables format, attendees sign up for seats at a table, in two rounds. For the "Sweet Spot" approach, a facilitator at each table guides participants in finding their strongest shared interest. For "Meet the Pros," popularized by the National Speakers Association, each table has an expert who responds to questions.

Part Two, Loose:

Host a cocktail hour or buffet meal where participants can mix and mingle to have follow-up discussions with those whose interests they share.

Hint: In all these methods, cultivating a mutuality mindset can enable individuals to experience ways they benefit by using their best talents together and for each other, thus evolving into a close-knit organization. As Clay Shirky says, "We are moving from sharing to cooperation to collective action." After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote, "Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up."