Take a moment and think about all the people in your life. How did you initially meet? What brought you closer together? From shared events – both the good and the bad — to circumstances, interests, activities, networks and beyond, personal relationships are built and deepened everyday.
The same is true within the office environment. An important part of employee engagement is the relationships people have within a team or department. These relationships and networks, called social capital, can be the biggest difference between good and great teams.
Margaret Heffernan, international businesswoman and writer, further describes social capital as, “the trust, knowledge, reciprocity, and shared norms that create quality of life and make a group resilient.” It’s the small talk in the office after a holiday weekend; it’s team members networking with clients and industry influencers; it’s working together as a team to overcome a business crisis. Most importantly, social capital benefits employees’ well-being and happiness.
Furthermore, having social capital can help businesses thrive. In the book Achieving Success Through Social Capital, Wayne Baker explains, “Organizations with rich social capital enjoy access to venture capital and financing, improved organizational learning, the power of word-of-mouth marketing, the ability to create strategic alliances, and the resources to defend against hostile takeovers.”
This is great for business. However, not everyone in the world is socially confident. How can team members achieve successful social capital? Below are three ways teams and departments can cultivate social capital and become successful within their respective industries.
- Let employees create their own value
Successful social capital occurs when employees feel like they are adding to the team dynamic. It also allows for employees to create personal value and become a resource for their peers. Managers need to look at their employees on an individual level, and create environments where employees can bring their skills and talents to the table and, most importantly, teach others what they know. When employees feel a sense of purpose within their job, engagement goes up.
- Create better communication tactics
Better social capital will come when team members know the best way to communicate among themselves. Whether it’s weekly meetings, instant messaging, emails, or phone calls, having constant communication is vital to a well-working team. Managers and employees should talk with one another to see what works best and stick to the plan. This not only strengthens employee relationships, but also allows for transparency, trust, and less confusion.
- Let small actions dictate team culture
Much like individuals themselves, social capital is different and unique for organizations. As managers, learn how to create a team identity which will lead to better social capital through small actions that build team camaraderie. These shouldn’t be big team building activities—instead, take a step back and examine team processes and workflow. See what employees do to scale efforts and if it works, incorporate it. These small actions can range from employees recognizing opportunities to help a team member to making meetings more personal with getting to know you questions. The last thing employees want is mandatory activities, so work hard to let employees create culture through their own actions. Employees will be more motivated to work when they dictate the culture they work in.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that this concept does not come easily to everyone in the workplace. However, knowing the benefits of social capital and integrating these tactics with the right intent helps build engagement in the right way.
Consider what Baker wrote: “If we try to build social capital directly, we won’t succeed…If a person joins an association just to ‘network,’ people see right through the false front. But if you join an association you believe in—one that has a mission you are passionate about—you will form new relationships as a natural by-product of your involvement with the association. Social capital is the by-product, sometimes a very deliberate and conscious by-product, of the pursuit of meaningful activities.”
When social capital is integrated in the right way, it leads to more engaged employees and makes those good teams great.