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  • Published Oct 29, 2023

Your Best Friend at Work is More Important Than You Realize

Unlocking the power of workplace friendships may be the key to team success and happiness.

James Lawrence
James Lawrence

Happy CEO & CoFounder

A colleague hugging another colleague who is holding files with a shocked look on his face

In today's fast-paced business world, the need for efficient and effective communication, collaboration, and leadership is ever-growing. As organizations strive to enhance engagement, understanding, and connection, they often invest in external coaches and training. Those investments do pay off. Yet, what if the most potent coaches in your organization are the ones sitting next to you—your coworkers?

The Role of Psychological Safety

Before diving into the heart of coaching within teams, it's essential to understand the foundation upon which it's built: psychological safety, or essentially, a team environment where members feel safe taking interpersonal risks.

According to data from Google's two-year study on team performance, called Project Aristotle, psychological safety was found to be the most critical factor in creating successful teams. Teams with high levels of psychological safety were less likely to leave Google, more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas, and had better overall performance. Project Aristotle stands as one of Google's most significant undertakings to understand the dynamics of successful teams. It was an ambitious initiative, aimed at decoding the DNA of effective teamwork.

Statue of Aristotle

Google is no stranger to complex challenges, the tech giant has continually pushed boundaries. Yet, when they embarked on Aristotle in 2012, they confronted a question that had stymied business leaders for ages: what makes a team successful? Over two years, they rigorously studied 180 of their active teams, analyzing a wide array of data, from team norms to individual personalities.

The initial hypothesis was that the right combination of specific individual traits, skills, or backgrounds would create the best teams. However, the results proved more elusive. There wasn't a clear pattern that pointed to the composition of team members as the determinant of team success. Instead, the standout factor was something much more intangible: psychological safety. This concept, introduced by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, revolves around the belief that one will not face punishment or humiliation for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Google’s data suggested that teams with high psychological safety were more likely to take risks, be innovative, and admit mistakes, all without the fear of being chastised.

Quote that reads, "Google's data suggested that teams with high psychological safety were more likely to take risks, be innovative, and admit mistakes, all without the fear of being chastised"

Google eventually identified several key dynamics that differentiated successful teams from less successful ones:

  • Psychological Safety: As previously mentioned, this was the standout factor. Teams where members felt safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and be candid without fear of retribution were found to be more successful. Psychological safety was gauged by questions like "Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?" and "Are team members afraid to ask what might be perceived as 'dumb' questions?"
  • Dependability: On successful teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (versus the opposite - shirking responsibilities).
  • Structure and Clarity: High-performing teams have clear goals, and everyone understands their role within the group.
  • Meaning of Work: Every individual has a personal sense of the work's importance, leading them to be more invested in the team's success.

Gallup's extensive research also underscores the pivotal role of close workplace relationships in driving employee engagement and organizational success.

Their findings reveal that employees with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their roles, resulting in higher quality work and improved team dynamics. Additionally, these close-knit bonds contribute to a remarkable 50% increase in job satisfaction, lower safety incidents, and greater company loyalty, with such individuals being less inclined to seek opportunities elsewhere. In essence, fostering strong interpersonal connections at work doesn't just enhance individual well-being; it fundamentally amplifies organizational productivity and retention.

At its core, Gallup’s "best friend at work" concept goes beyond casual workplace acquaintances or even regular friends. This is a colleague with whom you share a deeper bond. They are someone you trust implicitly, confide in regularly, and look forward to seeing every day. This relationship isn’t just about making the workday more pleasant; it's about mutual support, understanding, and genuine camaraderie.

Two work best friends looking at each other and laughing

The value of having a best friend at work includes:

  • Emotional Well-being: The ups and downs of the work environment can be challenging. Having a close confidant provides emotional stability, acting as a buffer against workplace stressors.
  • Better Decision Making: Conversations with a trusted friend can help in refining ideas, identifying blind spots, and coming to more well-rounded decisions.
  • Increased Engagement: When employees have close relationships at work, they are more invested in their tasks and the success of the organization. This heightened engagement often leads to improved productivity and creativity.
  • Retention: Employees are more likely to stay with an organization where they have deep interpersonal connections. The prospect of leaving not just a job, but also a close friend, makes the decision to change positions more complicated.

What the Data Shows

Bar chart that shows having a best friend at work leads to higher engagement levels
  • Higher Engagement: According to Gallup's research, employees who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their jobs.
  • Better Performance: The same Gallup research found that women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).
  • Well-being and Satisfaction: Another study indicated that 70% of employees who have a best friend at work report feeling engaged with their jobs, while only 50% of those without such a connection feel the same way. This also results in higher job satisfaction scores among employees with close workplace bonds.
  • Positive Team Dynamics: Teams where members have closer interpersonal relationships demonstrate better collaboration, more effective communication, and a higher degree of innovation.
  • Health Benefits: A study from the University of Tel Aviv found that the presence of social support in the workplace can reduce the risk of mortality for employees, underscoring the health benefits of close work relationships.
Quote that reads "within the organizational fabric, those who find themselves as 'best friends at work' aren't just casual allies, they're anchors"

Empowering Every Employee

When employees feel safe, they're more likely to share, collaborate, and provide feedback. When they have a best friend at work, they’re more likely to tap that friend for help to address workplace tensions, general advice, and to help solve problems.

And herein lies the potential for every employee to act as a coach. If you are someone’s best friend at work, here are some helpful tips on how to navigate your role:

Always Be Curious: Let’s say Mary from Sales Operations comes to you because you’ve been at the company for 7 years, she trusts you, and you know the team inside out. Instead of giving Mary all of the answers, be curious and ask questions. This empowers Mary to think critically and come up with her own solution.

Within the organizational fabric, those who find themselves as 'best friends at work' aren't just casual allies; they're anchors. These are individuals who often bear witness to both the highs and lows experienced by their colleagues. Given this privileged position, the best friend has a unique opportunity to offer advice, guidance, and emotional support that’s both timely and empathetic. However, with this position comes a profound responsibility.

Serving as a coach means actively listening, asking the right questions, and guiding your friend towards constructive solutions. It's not just about offering a shoulder to lean on, but it's also about challenging them, helping them grow professionally, and ensuring they're aligned with the organization's goals and values. Treating this role with the gravity it deserves ensures that the guidance provided is not only well-meaning but also effective and transformational."

Listen Actively: Sometimes, all that's needed is a listening ear. Ensure that when team members come to you, you give them your full attention.

Not having a best friend at work is a situation some people find themselves in, especially when they're new to a job, work remotely, or are naturally more introverted. However, fostering close work relationships can have significant benefits for professional growth, job satisfaction, and mental well-being.

Sometimes, it's about taking the first step. Start by inviting a colleague for a coffee break or lunch. Engaging in informal settings can help both of you open up and bond. Join in team lunches, outings, or other group activities. These are excellent opportunities for casual interactions and to get to know colleagues outside of the work setting. Shared hobbies or interests, whether it's a particular sport, book genre, or TV show, can be a great conversation starter and bonding point. If you notice a colleague struggling with a task you're good at, offer assistance. It's a practical way of building rapport and trust.

An organization's collective success isn’t merely the sum of individual achievements; it’s a reflection of its collective consciousness and self-awareness. When an organization fosters an environment of self-awareness, it enables its teams to recognize their strengths, understand their weaknesses, and be attuned to the dynamics that affect team cohesion and productivity.

Best friends at work, with their deeper understanding of team intricacies, can act as mirrors, reflecting back the realities that might sometimes be overlooked. By vocalizing observations and offering insights, they help the organization continually refine its processes, values, and culture. Encouraging and valuing such feedback loops can be a game-changer for organizations, steering them towards sustained growth, innovation, and excellence.

And, because feedback is so important, here are some helpful tips on how to provide it effectively:

Be Specific: Instead of simply saying, "awesome job," say, "That presentation you did today on our solar integration project was well-detailed, and you really summarized the project's challenges. I think it really landed. When you are well-prepared and deliver so effectively it really helps position us as a strong competitor in our market. Keep it up!"

If you’ve got to deliver critical feedback, considering using the 4 step model pioneered by Manager Tools. Here’s a summary:

  • First, always ask for permission. The person you are giving feedback to is human and the best time for you might not be the best time for them. Always say something like, “May I give you some feedback?” and wait for an answer before diving right in.
  • Second, state the behavior that needs to change. The emphasis here is on behavior as opposed to motive, attitude, character, etc. which can all be really common frustrations at work. Say something like, “When you were talking to the potential client at the event you looked at the floor instead of making eye contact…” instead of, “You seemed a little disinterested, reserved, and introverted at the event…”
  • The third step is to talk about the impact of the behavior that needs to change. It is why the behavior is a problem. For example, “When you look at the floor instead of the eyes of the prospect, they will have a hard time trusting you, and people buy from people they trust.”
  • Finally, ask for next steps like, “I’m curious if you have ideas on how you might eliminate this minor issue going forward?"


Turning to a best friend at work for advice, guidance, or simply to vent can be both comforting and beneficial in many respects. But, when forming close relationships at work, it's essential to be wary of potential challenges that might arise.

One primary concern is the lack of objectivity; your best friend at the office may be inherently biased in your favor. This bias, stemming from personal feelings, can often cloud their judgment, making it challenging to receive genuine, constructive criticism that's vital for personal growth and making informed decisions. Moreover, forming such intimate bonds might tempt individuals to overshare, leading to breaches in professional boundaries. Sharing excessively personal information or discussing sensitive work-related topics without discretion can introduce complexities that could have been avoided.

Image of words on a clipboard that read "Implicit Bias"

This intertwining of personal and professional lives also raises concerns, especially when disagreements find their way into the workplace. Such disputes can influence team dynamics, hinder productivity, and dampen job satisfaction. The situation becomes even more intricate when one party holds a position of power or influence. Even if unintended, there's a looming risk of favoritism, which can sow seeds of resentment among other team members and, in some instances, raise ethical questions.

Lastly, while confiding in a trusted work friend might seem harmless, it carries with it confidentiality concerns. Discussions that touch upon sensitive matters, if overheard or inadvertently shared, can jeopardize the confidentiality of critical information. So, as enriching as these relationships can be, they also necessitate a keen sense of awareness and boundary setting.

Quote by Oprah Winfrey that reads "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down"


In the evolving landscape of today's workplace, interpersonal relationships stand out as a powerful driver of success, both for individuals and organizations. As demonstrated by extensive research from giants like Google and Gallup, the strength of team bonds, underscored by psychological safety, and close friendships at work significantly impact engagement, productivity, satisfaction, and overall well-being. Such connections not only enrich the day-to-day work experience but also serve as an essential support system, offering guidance, feedback, and camaraderie in the myriad challenges the professional realm presents.

However, like any relationship, it's imperative to strike a balance. The blending of personal and professional realms, while deeply rewarding, requires a careful, intentional approach. It's about fostering trust and openness while also upholding boundaries and objectivity. Such balance ensures that these bonds act as catalysts for growth and success rather than becoming potential pitfalls.

In conclusion, as organizations and individuals continually seek avenues for growth, innovation, and cohesion, the secret might just lie in the strength of the connections we forge with those around us. By recognizing the profound value of workplace friendships and actively nurturing these bonds, we pave the way for a more collaborative, engaged, and fulfilling work environment. The power of human connection in the workplace, it seems, is one tool that remains timeless in its impact.

With love,

Happy CEO James Lawrence's signature

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