Friends, coworkers – and leadership

A while back on a lazy afternoon, me and a fellow team member were chatting and sipping tea. The discussion moved on to an acquaintance I hadn’t heard from in a while. I asked her how this acquaintance – her friend was.

She replied ”she was fine the last time I heard..and by the way, she’s a colleague not a friend”.

I think she said that part in jest, but my mind wanted to wrestle with the thought a lot more. And the more I thought through this, the more I realized she was right – we had colleagues and we had friends – and very few were indeed both.

Why was this so? While colleagues bonded over a shared interest (a common job or a common pet crib – like a bad boss!), friends were about shared welfares too – it was not just business but a lot more personal.

This insight took me back a few years back ( when my career was just beginning). The ”coach” addressing a batch of eager trainees asked if we had a best friend at work. I remember several hands went up (including mine) and the coach nodded in approval. He realized a key truth – having friends at work didn’t really bring down performance; on the contrary it made life more fulfilling, and the increased comfort motivated us to aim higher.

Flash forward to today – here I am leading a fairly large set of teams and I wonder if I have helped inculcate the friendship DNA recommended by my coach from so long back. Are our teams (and us) forced to work together or do they find pleasure in working together?

I walked around teams – small, medium and large. Teams where we had Bosses who (what else) bossed and teams where the leaders led. Teams which were located geographically together and those that were connected virtually. Teams that had different demographic mixes and those that were homogenous. And the more I saw, the more I recognized that leadership does have its part for the magic to happen.

This brings me to my second insight. You cannot force lasting comradeship anymore than you can make a person creative with a gun to the head. You can however help provide an environment where people can connect a lot more freely – and of course you can set an example yourself. Fun, growth, transparency, very accessible leadership, highly intelligent teams and a comfortable work environment (including ergonomic chairs!) seem to be ingredients that allow for friendships to blossom better.

So the next time you meet your team, please find if your team members feel they have a trusted and best friend at work. If they could invite just a few select friends to spend a weekend with, would any of their colleagues qualify? If the answer is yes, a chocolate ice cream treat would be in order. If not, time to take a hard look in the leadership mirror!!


  1. Excellent Note. I thought the same few months ago about Colleague and Friend. Second with you in building the comfortable environment.

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