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July 1st, 2007 - Irruminations

Date: 2007-07-01 23:47
Subject: Management Strategy #3: Dolphins
Security: Public
Is it important that employees like each other?

That's a question I've been struggling with ever since I received a promotion that upgraded me to a “team leader” at my job. Do you need to like your coworkers to produce high-quality, time-efficient work?

The short answer, I've determined, is probably not. At least not at my company. We mostly work alone on projects, almost completely independent of others. However, I've noticed that when more than one person looks at the same book, the quality is almost always better than other books. Having someone else look at your project and ask you questions about the formatting or style or specs increases the chance that you'll be aware of those things that therefore will make sure they're consistent throughout the book. Also, a big part of a publishing project manager's job is to make sure that you complete your projects on time. Sometimes when you're in a pinch, having eager coworkers willing to help you out can be the difference between finishing something on time versus a day or two late.

So even though it's feasible for employees to work completely independently of each other (and thus it doesn't matter if they like each other or not), their work is higher quality if others help, and their work is more likely to be on time if others are willing to help. But employees are human, and they're not going to be overly eager about helping each other if they don't like each other.

So how do you get employees to like each other? You can't force them to like each other. You can mediate conflicts between them and make sure they don't hate each other, but that doesn't mean they'll like each other. But that's not good enough.

I think I've found a solution to this problem. I stumbled upon it the other day, quite by coincidence. Basically, an employee brought his dog into work for a day last week. It was a small, old, well-mannered dog who was very interested in everyone and spent most of her day walking in and out of offices, following us into the copy room, and eating mini carrots whenever we dropped them on the floor.

As you may have noticed from a previous blog post, I'm not a fan of dogs. I'm also not quite sure if my coworkers like dogs, but no one seemed to mind the presence of this dog. In fact, I would say that people were happy to have her with us for the day. I looked around the office at everyone that day, and I realized that something was different—people were happier. People were smiling at each other. People liked each other that day.

I've since proposed to this dog that she come visit us once a month. Why not? She didn't disturb anyone, and I didn't hear any complaints. I truly think she promoted biophilia, the bonding of various forms of life (coworker to coworker, canine to coworker, etc.). But I'd like to take this a step further. Dogs are nice and all, but what about dolphins? I've heard that some people use swimming with dolphins as a type of antidepressant—after all, how are you going to be sad after swimming with dolphins? It's like the happiest possible scenario.

I can't have dolphins in the office—they wouldn't fit into our corporate culture. But what if once a year, the company paid for all office employees to go swim together with dolphins for a day? You'd be so happy that day. And after that day, you'd associate your coworkers with that happiness. How could you not like them after that?

I really think this could work. I'll start small, with the dog, but I'll work my way up to dolphins. Dolphins are the future of employee happiness.

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December 2007