Each morning, when the rising sun (or my daughter) wakes me and I open my eyes, I begin to go over my plan for the day. This is a treasured time. Some days, I can’t wait to get going and the day’s tasks are joyous and fruitful; other days, work just feels like…work. Last summer, as I was writing a vision plan for Alabama Chanin, it became evident that having a solid team in place – a team that had the talent and the desire to carry out that vision – would be essential. Now, when I look around, I see that our team members are creating strong relationships that are enhancing our work environment and also enriching their personal lives.
History shows that workplace teams spark one another’s creativity and create long-lasting work. Colleagues Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the fashion label Rodarte, create some of the most original pieces each season. The New Yorker wrote that, though they have their differences, the sisters “act like a single organism,” which speaks to their specific communication skills. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, known by music lovers as “The Swampers”, created such a successful working relationship that they became business partners and founded a storied recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of the last century. He studied architecture; she studied painting and sculpting; together they not only influenced the rise of modernism, but developed innovative ways of using materials and were champions of computer technology in design.
There are plenty of other examples of functional and dysfunctional co-workers in popular culture. Television lets us laugh at the Jim vs. Dwight rivalry on “The Office” (or Tim vs. Gareth, if you prefer the UK version), have our hearts warmed by the familial love at WJM-TV on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, or witness the stilted workplace dynamics of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on “Mad Men.”
Members of our Alabama Chanin team have been reading Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves. Part of what we are discovering is that our individual behaviors influence our colleagues and create a company culture. As co-workers, we need trust, kindness, and honesty. To quote Managing Ourselves: “Small kindnesses, small considerations and small courtesies habitually practiced will give a wonderful charm to your personality and make people want to be around you, listen to you.” The book offers Zingerman’s founder Paul Saginaw’s advice on trust: “Start out by trusting others. I think that this is essential. It is so easy for us to believe that we are personally trustworthy but doubt the motives of others. We are not authentic, sincere or worthy of trust if we don’t begin with mutual trust.”
Our discussions on the role of co-workers have revealed that even those of us who value a degree of solitude or “alone time” enjoy working in a group, if the members have created a bond of trust. One of our team members said, “Communication is imperative to a healthy work environment – feeling like you can go to anyone at any time and ask a question, and get a reassuring answer in return; feeling indispensable to your peers and supervisors; feeling like you are a respected member of something bigger than yourself.”
Another colleague said that her work friends opened up her social circle and provided opportunities for her to make the most important relationships in her personal life – a stark contrast from other, competitive work environments in her past. And Sara, who works with us remotely from Nashville, often works out of a neighborhood coffee shop filled with other freelancers and artists. The “regulars”, who work there frequently, often look to one another for opinions on their work or help when they are creatively stalled. These relationships developed among an unofficial group of co-workers suggest that bonds of trust in your work environment (however non-traditional) spur creativity and happiness for the whole group. Our MAKESHIFT workshops and experiences support this idea.
A recent TINYpulse study indicates that employee happiness is quite dependent on co-workers. Employees who place a high value on relationships with co-workers tend to be happier at work. This implies that every person in a company contributes to the health of workplace culture. Every member of the team has an integral role in the overall success of that team (and in turn, the overall success of the company). The study also revealed that employees are motivated by peer evaluations of their work. Here at Alabama Chanin, one of our sales team members made a pledge “to not dwell in negativity, but to thrive in positivity.” We love that thought and are trying to hold one another accountable to that idea, as peers. Everyday excellence should be noted and criticism should remain constructive.
As we learn more about who we want to be as a company, we place higher value on building strong, interactive, fluid relationships that will last. Collaborative work is the story of the future for Alabama Chanin. We hope it will be your story, too.
P.S. Thank you to Rinne Allen for the first three photos of our workspace.