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How Having a Best Friend at Work Transforms the Workplace

How Having a Best Friend at Work Transforms the Workplace

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 41
  • Learn about the dynamic, varied ways that workplaces benefit when their employees have a best friend at work in this Q12 for Coaches podcast on item Q10.

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he's experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don't have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?

In this session, Mike talks about Q10 -- "I have a best friend at work." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.


This question generates a lot of friction -- and that's the beauty of it. Jane Miller, our COO at Gallup, says, "Conflict creates clarity" -- and I'd say even that "Chaos creates clarity." Those moments are super hard, but provide a lot of clarity. Use this question to your advantage.

This is a powerful, thought-provoking question that not only provides clarity but also discovery. So we confirm some things but find some things we haven't seen before.

There is so much psychologically and relationally that we need from our workplaces as represented by Q10. The motivational request behind this item is, "Help me build mutual trust." If people at work have your back, with unconditional trust, think about the freedom you have to deliver world-class performance. If you don't have that, there's a hesitation and a withholding of effort.

When does employee engagement become so powerful and profound that it activates what people want to do versus what they have to do? I always like to ask people, "If you have a best friend, how much effort do you withhold if you have the opportunity to work with them?"

"Best friend at work" transforms what the workplace represents. It enables us to move forward into the future workplace -- from a past workplace desire merely for a job to a future workplace mindset that, "It's not just my job, it's my life."

Gallup gets a lot of pushback on this item, so the temptation would be to remove it. But it's not just a feeling -- it's a key separator of high- vs. low-performing teams. For example, if you have a best friend at work, you are 7 times more likely to be engaged at your job. And it has well-being connections -- for example, if your best friend has a healthy diet, you are five times more likely to have a healthy diet yourself.

And having a best friend separates elite, world-class performers. "We have to pass through best friend on our way to world-class."

Coaches have to help their clients see that this item represents so much more than just having a best friend -- there is a lot of lasting impact on what we do and how we live.

In the U.S. workforce, only 2 in 10 strongly agree that they have a best friend at work. So there's a lot of room to grow. It's the most compromised, the most at-risk item in the database, though not by much.

Best friend (Q10) has an impact on safety -- 36% fewer safety incidents if we can do safety right. There are also large gains for this item in terms of profitability and customer engagement.

Great leaders think about the natural conditions that can create a good environment for best friends. There is a strong relationship between Q04 (recognition in the last seven days) and best friend. And this can help our coaching -- Q04 speaks to "Do you know me" and so it connects well with the Q10 motivational request of "Help me build mutual trust." How can we start to aspire toward Q10? Start with item Q04, recognizing people for their contributions.

Sometimes leaders will naturally tend to "race to the top" of the hierarchy, but there are consequences to missing excellence on items Q01 and Q02 (and to items Q01 to Q06 more generally). Managers can't ignore these items because they're foundational to engagement.

Policy changes that benefit Q10 may take months or years to put into effect, but small steps like "Joe on the Go" (a company that comes to the workplace and provides custom coffee drinks and smoothies) or a food truck can help boost item Q10 more quickly by providing an environment in which employees can gather and socialize.

It's powerful for coaches and managers to think about how they can combine Q12 items 1-6 with items 7-12 (like Q04 and Q10), rather than thinking about one item in isolation.

For managers, how can we surmount the usual barriers to excellence on Q10? Having an expectation and intentionality for employees to get to know one another and creating opportunities for that (even outside of the workplace) can help overcome those barriers. And if workplaces can get better about recognition, that is one of the easiest ways to make inroads on Q10. And it is good to assess where a team or department is compromised in the area of trust.

Can a manager be a best friend? Yes, but it's more about being a catalyst -- creating opportunities for the team to develop best friendships. So coaches can help managers see the need to create this kind of environment. The manager shouldn't think that they are the answer to a low "best friend" item score, but should foster an environment in which the team develops best friendships.

When managers discuss friendships with their employees on a regular basis, it nearly triples the chances of employees having a best friend at work. Managers should seek to normalize this and make Q10 part of the workplace culture.

But in your efforts to foster more engagement around Q10, don't forget the first six items. If your company is spending $30,000 on an employee picnic but you regularly run out of copier paper or have broken chairs, perhaps that money would be better spent on those things (materials and equipment, Q02) and the picnic can come later.

Three characteristics of a well-connected team (from a "best friend" perspective):

  1. Trust (confidence in one another's reliability and dependability)
  2. Teamwork (natural appreciation of one another's talents and strengths; a shift out of the zero-sum mentality that says when you win, I lose -- and vice-versa)
  3. Emotional loyalty (I want to stay later and/or do more because I get to work with my best friend)

Here are some questions managers should be thinking about and asking themselves regarding Q10 (0nly 30% of people find it easy to describe how each friend contributes to their life):

  • Do my employees trust each other and me as their team leader? What is the evidence of this?
  • What have been our best moments as a team?
  • How am I building friendships at work (intentionality)? How can I create more of those opportunities?

Additional resources:

Mike McDonald's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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