The realities of the water cooler effect

During the pandemic there has been much discussion about the future of work, and the role of the office. Some want to go back to the way things were, others have embraced the “working from home” approach, and the middle ground is a hybrid model.

Over the last 18 months or so, one frequent reason for returning to the office has been the “water cooler effect”. My ears perk up every time because I wonder if leaders really know what is going on in their organisation?

If you aren’t familiar with the term, the “water cooler” is an informal space where people take a break from work and talk.

In that space you can meet new people, create valuable bonds, learn new things, blow off steam, be inspired with ideas, and network within the organisation. The social element can help boost morale, which in turn can improve culture and productivity.

What’s not to like? It’s a persuasive argument when presented in this way. My issue is with the presentation because it doesn’t tell the whole picture nor addresses critical organisational problems.

The “water cooler effect” is nothing new. People at work have been bumping into each other and chatting for decades.

As someone who is interested in helping organisations improve, and awakening leaders to what’s going on in their organisations, I’m interested in what people talk about and HOW they express themselves.

The real picture differs from the marketing and can be the stuff of Shakespeare!

As well as sharing news, people complain, spread gossip, hatch plots against colleagues, and inch-by-inch create a divisive culture.

There’s a multi-dimensional nature to how an organisation sees itself and how it behaves. When trust and communication break down, the “water cooler effect” can amplify discontent, and create the feeling of separation.

My approach is to create an organisational culture of trust and open communication, that “bakes-in” the positive elements of the “water cooler effect”.

It’s a 3-stage process of 1) understanding the issues (from the perspectives of the stakeholders); 2) creating a culture that talks together; 3) moving to a culture that works together.

Otherwise you have an organisational culture that battles with itself – benefiting no-one.

I can help your organisation change and adapt. Contact me for FREE and let’s have a conversation!

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