Managing and Keeping Friends

In theory, hiring a friend onto your team should be a great idea. You know them. You already trust them. You have mutual respect. Why wouldn’t it work?

The reality is that transitioning a peer-to-peer friendship to a manager-subordinate relationship rarely goes smoothly. Why? Because people don’t create new contracts upfront.

Outside of work your relationship can be based on different things – shared interests and hobbies, your history, your kids. At work, your relationship is about results.

Some managers are able to be upfront with their friends and both parties enter into the new relationship contract knowingly. Some managers don’t acknowledge that they operate in a different paradigm at work and things just get more and more awkward.

3 classically awkward situations that can turn into train wrecks

  1. You are painfully aware that others on the team are watching how you treat your friend, so you avoid giving praise or rewards, leaving your friend frustrated and perpetuating the awkward sense that you are treating your friend differently.
  2. You think you have an unspoken understanding with your friend, that you don’t have to give feedback or sit down for one-on-ones, leaving your friend a drift and you more and more uncomfortable with the gap in oversight.
  3. You are so uncomfortable about having to discipline your friend, or hold them to account for poor results or behaviour that you actually talk yourself out of having to do it, which will eventually bring down the team and the friendship.

Great leaders are open, honest, authentic and fair. Ask yourself, are you being all those things with every member of your team? Are you different with your friend?

If you find yourself in an awkward relationship – here’s a fix. Instead, of letting slightly awkward conversations go, acknowledge the awkwardness. Own up to the weirdness. If you are feeling it, your friend is too. Be the manager and fix it.

Go out of the office – somewhere neutral – and say, “I’m having a hard time with this – I didn’t think I would but here it is.” Ask how your friend is doing. Talk about how you would ideally treat your staff and ask your friend to describe an ideal relationship with a manager.

If you both acknowledge that at work authority has to be exercised and recognized to get results, and  agree to how you will work together on the team, you should be able to have a great working relationship and friendship. In fact, having a friend on the team – someone you trust to support you to take personal and professional risks – can make you a better manager.

Everyone wants boundaries and guidelines, even your friends. They want to respect you as a leader. You want to respect them for their contribution. So create an environment where that can happen. Be open. Be fair. Get results. If you are doing the work to make the team grow, your friendship will likely grow with it. But if you are poisoning the team with a festering relationship, you risk losing both the friendship and the team.

3 things to ask yourself BEFORE you hire a friend

  1. Could I honestly give my friend direction and feedback?
  2. When there’s a problem, could I discipline my friend as I would anyone else on the team?
  3. Could I fire my friend if it came to that?

If you can’t answer yes to those questions, don’t hire a friend. But keep in mind that great leaders learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable – let me know if I can help.

Related articles on the blog:

No More Workarounds

Category: All, Manage your People, Managing Conflict, Team building, The Leader's Toolkit
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