If you’re lucky, you have colleagues who feel like family. Work families are special. The people at your job don’t have to love you, or even like you. But, if they are a bright spot in your day, it means you’re doing your part. Work families have the magic to make success a team sport. Everyone tries harder when people we care about are depending on us.

At this time of year, when we pause for moments of gratitude, I’d like to give a shout-out to those special relationships. We spend more time at work than we do at home. And not every day is a good one. My own work family has helped me through situations that wouldn’t be on my list for a repeat performance.

When a stressful project isn’t going according to plan, there is no substitute for a trusted friend who can talk you through the challenges. I am incredibly thankful for my wonderful team. They always have my back. I know that I can count on each of them to give their best for .orgSource and for me. 

Our amazing clients are the reason this family exists. They give us our purpose and our passion, and we are grateful to them for the opportunity to do the work we love together.

According to Impact, “83% of U.S. employees say their work-family makes them feel happier and a survey of 1,000 full-time workers ages 18-65 found that having a familial relationship with coworkers boosts productivity and feelings of well-being in the workplace.”

Helping your staff to discover those supportive friendships goes a long way toward relieving stress and motivating peak performance. If the vibe in your office is more fraught than fuzzy, these are suggestions for warming a frosty environment.

Cultivate Culture    

In groups, culture sets the expectations and norms for behavior. Your mission, vision, values, and goals are the foundation for those attitudes. A clearly defined culture provides a structure to support positive relationships.

Nancy MacRae, Executive Director at the Emergency Nurses Association, makes culture a top priority. Nancy leads by example. She personally recognizes people, activities, and initiatives that support ENA’s values. Nancy explains how she promotes collaboration throughout a staff of 100 employees like this.

“We strive to do a good job of talking about our goals and bringing everybody together. Our ten goals cut across all business lines. They drive our board, budgeting, and staffing. Nothing is just one person’s responsibility. Each individual has a piece in our success. We continually point out examples of that concept. Our goals are a great rallying cry for our team.”

Create Space to Collaborate

Nancy feels so strongly about the positive impact of ENA’s culture that when the organization moved to a new office, the space was planned to reflect those values.

“The design is a visual representation of our culture and values,” says Nancy. “Our previous home was cramped and dark. The floor plan made collaboration difficult. Now people can’t help but work together. There are 26 different meeting rooms and open collaboration areas that employees can use in a variety of ways as well as individual assigned spaces. We wanted to give our team choices. Every workstation has a sit/stand desk. It’s been wonderful seeing how people use the equipment and facility. Employees can go to a conference room for one or two people or a space that accommodates a larger group. We also have individual work pods that are similar to a first-class airline seat. Technology and everything else you need is at your fingertips.

“Our staff café rivals a restaurant. It features natural wood, warm lighting, and contemporary fixtures. And, best of all, it opens to a patio where we have our own fire pit. It’s much more than a lunchroom. This is the place where we have casual gatherings and fun office functions. In the four weeks we’ve been here I’ve talked to more staff than in the two prior years. It’s gratifying to have an environment that helps us to live our values.”

Keep it Natural

You can’t force friendship. I spoke with a new executive director who came from an office where the culture involved frequent out-of-the-office lunches and happy hour get-togethers. He was extremely frustrated that the new staff he inherited weren’t interested in socializing off campus. His zeal extended to including comments about lunching together in performance evaluations.

The more the executive director tried to herd people from their desks toward bar snacks and beer at five o’clock, the more firmly they resisted. It wasn’t that co-workers disliked each other. But their jobs demanded long hours at the office and group travel. They just wanted space to form close relationships on their own terms.

Take the temperature of your group and evaluate how they like to socialize. Then, find venues to facilitate that behavior. Showing a movie over lunch or catering in from a popular restaurant are more subtle ways to encourage interaction. Fun teambuilding activities are also a good option. There are plenty of companies that specialize in organizing these events.

Hire Positive People

Just one bully, brat, or high-maintenance diva is enough to spoil any party. Yes, diversity is important. Strive to hire creative thinkers from a variety of backgrounds. But don’t introduce a toxic personality into your stable group. I don’t care if this individual can do the work of five people, create campaigns that double your revenue, or is your best friend’s daughter. Negative energy replicates quickly.

Have a robust interview process that helps you distinguish applicants who are eager to contribute from those with an itch for disruption. When in doubt, evaluate the feedback and the data against your instinct. If you feel less than enthusiastic, just say No.

Be Approachable 

When you are the leader, your personality shapes the culture. That influence is a political reality. To succeed people need to please you, so they deliberately, and often unconsciously, model your behavior. If you are a CEO who keeps the office door closed, requires people to make an appointment for a five-minute chat, and seldom ventures beyond the executive suite, you will propagate that reserve among your employees.   

On the other hand, the CEO who chats with the receptionist every morning, makes regular tours of the office, and learns the names of the team’s spouses, children, and pets sets an example for collegial relationships to grow and opens opportunities for employees to find their office families.

Have the Holiday You Hope for

Whether you are celebrating quietly or in a crowd, I hope the holiday lives up to your expectations. Although your work family may not be enjoying the day with you, they’ll have your back on Monday and many other days throughout the year. So, take a breath between the turkey and the pie to appreciate the support and care we receive from these special colleagues. Find a moment to consider how you can grow those important relationships throughout your organization.