The Importance of Connecting with Colleagues

Last Updated Nov 5, 2007 12:28 PM EST

One of my managers once told me I wasn't at work to make friends. But connecting with co-workers is a key to fruitful work environments. In Fired up or Burned Out, author Michael Stallard begins by citing Gallup research showing that only three in ten Americans are engaged in their jobs. Worse, 22 million workers are what Gallup called "actively disengaged" or negative about their firm. Gallup says that costs American businesses $250 billion to $300 billion a year. Stallard's book is about how business leaders can engage their employees at all levels.

Stallard's theme is connection, and he doesn't mean connection of the social networking kind. He thinks businesses, from the CEO on down, need to develop a culture that encourage employees â€" all employees â€" to feel like they're valuable. He argues that it comes down to connecting with employees, and helping them connect with customers and partners. Stallard says that takes a vision, an ability to make other people feel valued, and to give employees a voice.

So Stallard has a vision thing, a value thing and a voice thing. There is in fact a kind of Chicken Soup for the Soul feel to Stallard's book â€" it is chock full of people becoming great by connecting with the people around them.

But, the sheer volume of those stories makes it seem pragmatic, not PollyAnnaish. Stallard mixes in stories from big businesses and small, from healthcare, the sports world and from history to support his thesis. It's impossible not to find some example that will make you rethink your own approach to other people in your working life.

The importance of connection was reinforced when I went to a technology transfer conference and sat in on a panel about, of all things, how startups can raise a "B" (or second) round of venture capital funding. The panelists, all involved in some aspect of the venture capital business, somehow got off on the subject of how new rounds of funding can affect the composition of a board, and how disruptive that can be if it changes the connections that exist at a young company.

Roger L. Krakoff, a partner at VC firm Sigma Partners, told the crowd that "(In business school) I thought organizational behavior was soft, and goofy. Give me finance! But now I know, I've seen that interpersonal stuff can wreck a CEO, ruin a company."

He and the other venture capitalists on the panel all agreed that they'd seen good young companies fall apart because executives or board members degenerated into backstabbing and other kinds of ill behavior.

So the soft stuff counts, and Stallard's book helps fluff the pillows.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.