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The Power of Workplace Friendships: Building Stronger, More Connected Teams

BY: Chris Schembra // Founder and Chief Question Asker, 7:47 Gratitude Experience™

In the world of sports and business, legends are made not only by individual prowess but also by the ability to forge connections, build communities, and champion shared visions. One remarkable story that exemplifies this is the journey of the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, a team that transformed from a struggling franchise into NBA Champions. At the heart of their transformation was a South African philosophy called “Ubuntu,” which embodies the ideals of connection, community, and mutual caring for all.

The Power of Unity

In 2007, the Boston Celtics were in dire straits. They had finished the previous NBA season with one of the worst records, 24-58, and their fans were chanting “Fire Doc” in reference to their head coach, Doc Rivers. The team needed a dramatic turnaround, and it came in the form of acquiring superstar players Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce. However, these three players had previously clashed, creating interpersonal conflicts that needed to be resolved.
Doc Rivers, the head coach, knew that he faced a monumental task. He understood that to win, he needed to turn these individual stars into a unified team. His strategy went beyond drawing up plays and managing minutes; it was about instilling a philosophy that could transform this collection of talent into a cohesive unit.

During the preseason training camp in Rome, Italy, Doc Rivers introduced the team to “Ubuntu,” a South African philosophy that emphasizes connection and mutual support. Ubuntu is often translated as “I am because we are” or “humanity towards others.” Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela used Ubuntu as a rallying cry to unite South Africa after Apartheid.

To Doc Rivers, Ubuntu meant that he couldn’t reach his full potential unless every player on the team reached theirs. He emphasized that he couldn’t be threatened by their skills because their success ultimately contributed to the team’s success. Doc chose the rookies to convey this message to the team, asking them to sell the idea of Ubuntu passionately and with humor.

The rookies’ presentation was so successful that Kevin Garnett exclaimed, “Ubuntu on three.” The team embraced the philosophy, and it became their guiding principle.

In the workplace, just as in the world of sports, the power of unity and connection cannot be underestimated. Workplace friendships play a pivotal role in fostering collaboration, improving employee well-being, and achieving shared goals. Just as the Celtics needed to build strong relationships to succeed as a team, organizations thrive when employees form meaningful connections with their colleagues.

In today’s world, we are grappling with a loneliness epidemic and a crisis of disconnection. Loneliness has reached alarming levels, and disengagement in the workplace is widespread. These issues are affecting our well-being, creativity, innovation, and overall happiness. When people in the workplace don’t connect meaningfully, they feel isolated in their struggles.

The Power of Friendship

Cutting-edge research has shown that workplace friendships have tangible benefits. They lead to higher job satisfaction, improved collaboration, better problem-solving, and increased productivity. Employees who have strong friendships at work are more engaged, more loyal to their organizations, and less likely to experience burnout.

Fostering Empathy

Empathy is a crucial element of workplace friendships. It involves understanding and caring for one another’s well-being. When employees have empathy for their colleagues, they create a supportive and compassionate work environment. Empathetic leaders can inspire their teams, build trust, and foster a sense of belonging.

Promoting Gratitude

Gratitude is not just a sentiment; it’s also a strategy for creating a positive workplace culture. Embracing gratitude can lead to lower stress levels, improved trust within teams, and a more positive work environment. Leaders should encourage gratitude within their organizations to create a culture of appreciation and shared success.

Building Collaboration

Successful organizations are not just filled with successful individuals; they are filled with individuals who celebrate each other’s successes. Instead of succumbing to envy, it’s important for leaders to foster a culture of “mudita,” which means delighting in the accomplishments of others. This mindset shift can lead to more profound connections and shared joy.

Silos within organizations, caused by a lack of genuine human connection, hinder growth, and leaders should work to break down these barriers. Collaborative leadership and intentional efforts to connect teams can lead to outsized business results.

Workplace leaders who apply intentional strategies in these areas can create stronger, more connected, and more successful organizations where employees thrive together through the power of workplace friendships.

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Chris Schembra
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR Chris Schembra // Founder and Chief Question Asker, 7:47 Gratitude Experience™
Chris Schembra is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Gratitude Through Hard Times and Gratitude and Pasta. USA Today calls him their “Gratitude Guru”, he’s a Founding Member of Rolling Stone Magazine’s Culture Council, and he sits on the Executive Board at Fast Company Magazine. He is the Founder and Chief Question Asker of the 7:47 Gratitude Experience — an evidence-based framework used to strengthen client and team relationships in profound ways. He’s used the principles of gratitude to spark over 500,000 relationships within the workplace.

Through his gratitude work, he’s observed that leaders and their teams may interact on a superficial level but are not genuinely connected to themselves, their co-workers, their customers, or their larger communities. Schembra teaches how to make a shift towards authenticity and deeper human relationships as a means to combat this issue and achieve outsized business results.