How to Successfully Work with Your Friends...Even When Everyone Tells You Not To
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I was warned at a young age not to do business with my friends. All the logic behind it makes sense. Friends and money don’t mix. Friends and the stress of work don’t mix. Who wants to boss around (or be bossed around by) their friends, after all? It opens up the door to heartache, difficult conversations, and the risk of splintered relationships that will never recover. But I also firmly believe that it can be done.
I’m writing this from a place of perspective - I have worked with friends or watched loved ones work with friends/family and seen it go horribly wrong. Trust me when I say that I have experienced the repercussions of relationship meltdowns firsthand. But, I also run a business of all women who are in similar life seasons and of similar ages, and it’s a company that is extremely lifestyle oriented. I’m not most people’s primary employment or paycheck. I’m the boss at their fun job, which comes with a very different playbook than a traditional 9-5. It allows more time for relationships, team building, shared experiences, and the opportunity for close friendships to form quickly.
When I first opened the studio, I was lonely as all get out because I knew no one in Colorado Springs, and making friends with my team was very tempting. But, I held back for over a year because I had seen businesses become cliquey and mismanaged when friendship dynamics trumped professionalism. I was fearful of that and never wanted it for my own studio. However, when you spend 90% of your time with your staff, it’s pretty difficult for those relationships not to happen overtime.
Now, I firmly believe that it is impossible to avoid working with your friends if you want a healthy company culture and an environment where you actually want to come to work. Once I settled with this, the question shifted from, “how do I avoid this?” to, “how do I do this with excellence?”
Not everyone is going to be your best friend. I think the most obvious thing to address is that not everyone you work with can or should be your friend. You can have a cordial working relationship without letting it develop into anything deeper, and I would guarantee that with most of your employees and coworkers, that’s the way it should be. Don’t hire people with the goal of being their friend - hire for the job at hand. Make sure you can work well together, but most of that is on you as their leader, anyway. And, if the relationship organically forms over time, great! If not, no worries.
Also, I do my best to know everyone’s enneagram number on my team, which is really helpful for one-on-one meetings, figuring out who would be best at managing who, and more.
Work is not the place for oversharing and big feelings. I chuckle as I write this one because I can honestly say that almost every employee I’ve ever had has cried to me or had a crisis in front of me at some point. I mean, we’re all women, it’s just part of the game. But, as a whole, work isn’t the place where your life chats and friendship moments should be happening. Work is the place for shared experiences, and you should be taking time outside of work to foster any friendships that you’re trying to build. If it’s interfering with your ability to do your job well, it’s not going to be a healthy relationship.
Hire trustworthy, mature people. Another obvious one, and I understand that you might not have control over who gets hired, depending on your role at work. But, when it comes to relationships, you shouldn’t ever be seeking a friendship out of convenience. I end up being friends with many girls on my staff because they are trustworthy, mature, hard-working, and take the job seriously. They can separate work from play, and they don’t take advantage of the relationship to get out of work.
Difficult and uncomfortable conversations can never be avoided. If you can’t get cozy with this fact, you will never be able to successfully work with your friends. Let’s face it - it’s going to get personal. You might have a tiff outside of work that influences the way you feel inside of work, or you may have a stressful work situation that makes you want to go home and not hear from your friend/coworker all weekend long. But if you can’t talk through your issues and come to a healthy resolution, even if it’s misery to do, you will never be able to maintain a healthy working relationship or friendship. I think this is usually the hill people die on because they would rather salvage the friendship than cause an upset, but avoidance always leads to dissolution.
If your friendship is causing you to make poor work decisions, it’s time to cut the cord. And lastly, if you are unable to work through an issue, it’s time to separate yourself. That could mean firing someone, or it could just mean stepping away from a relationship that’s gone sour. If your friendship is constantly bringing negativity, strife, or conflict to your workplace (and probably life outside of work), it’s not a relationship to keep investing in anyway.
These are my top 5 to successfully work with your friends, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let me know how you work (or avoid working) with your friends and questions you have!