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Mahomes, Kelce, & the Magic of Workplace Friendships

By: Sara Choate, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

In case you missed it, the October 10, 2022 edition of Monday Night Football (MNF) did not disappoint. Apart from one really bad call (that honestly seemed to give the Chiefs the fire they needed), it was the Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce show. A sheer masterclass in the type of razzle dazzle that even had my nine-year-old, “I hate football” daughter asking if “we” were doing well and watching until the very end.

With four touchdown catches – setting a single-game receiving record for MNF – Kelce was locked in, and the connection to his quarterback was undeniable. There is clearly a bond between the two, and by all appearances, they truly like and care for each other. This short clip of Mahomes crashing Kelce’s post-game interview reinforces this theory.

The Kansas City Chiefs are an organization. A for-profit entity that just so happens to conduct their business on a very public stage. At the end of the day, it’s not much different than any of the organizations we work for or own. Players are the front-line employees, and behind the scenes, a slew of dedicated individuals ranging from maintenance crews to front office staff all play a part in making sure they are working toward the same goal. For the last several years, they have been a really high-performing business. Sure, they currently have a couple of legendary rock stars on staff, but I have to believe there is something bigger going on from a culture perspective.

Chiefs’ leadership has clearly created an environment that makes people want to show up everyday and do their best. And they seem to know that inherently, teams will perform at a higher level if they are friends with their co-workers. A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article reinforced this very thought. The article cites research from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota that, “not only confirmed that close friendships increase workplace productivity, they also found out why – friends are more committed, communicate better, and encourage each other. “ Huh. It’s almost like the researchers studied Mr. Mahomes and Mr. Kelce.

As Jon Clifton, the author of the HBR article so eloquently states, “To ignore friendships is to ignore human nature. In the battle between company policy and human nature, human nature always wins. The evidence suggests that people will fulfill their social needs, regardless of what is mandated. Companies do far better to harness the power of this kind of social capital than to fight against it.

So, what are you doing in your organization to promote friendship?

Perks are nice, but not everything – News flash, as the HBR article stresses, it’s not about forced happy hours or making games available. Real or perceived, these type of “perks” are often interpreted as nothing more than a ploy for longer hours. It’s about taking action to promote and encourage building genuine connections and having fun while doing it. I get that not everyday can be a carnival – nor should it be. But to be surrounded by a team that can find moments of joy in what is sometimes the suck, can absolutely influence one’s decision to stay or go. My definition of culture is, “how people feel when they leave work.” If employees have been allowed to do meaningful work with people they truly enjoy, and have some fun, they’re going to feel pretty good.

Encourage Non-Work-Related Communication – It’s 11:05 am CST on Tuesday, October 11, and in my corner of the office, I’ve heard no less than three conversations about last night’s game. Throughout the building and via Teams, it’s certainly exponentially higher. Honestly – fantastic! Public accounting firms are under a tight October 15th deadline, and I have no doubt the work is going to get done and get done well. If it can get done in an environment that encourages people to connect and talk about things that bring them joy, they will be more likely to connect and talk about work-related issues, therefore working together as a team to provide an exceptional level of client service.

Identify & Promote Synergy – When you see team members who click in a healthy, non-toxic way, harness that energy pronto. Create opportunities for these individuals to work together. Their positivity will spread and will encourage others to jump in on that synergy. These teams will build psychological safety that will foster open communication, innovation, and fun – and that’s where the magic happens – just ask Andy Reid.

At the end of the day, work is about more than, well, work if you want your employees to be fulfilled. Make it fun and encourage friendships – that’s the secret to a workplace culture TOUCHDOWN.

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