by Vanessa F. Hurst
Compassion is one benchmark of a robust, productive workplace. To create a culture of compassion, leaders don’t go into the workplace one morning and mandate that it will be a place of compassion. In order to foster this environment, collaboration becomes the way of business as usual. When a workplace fosters collaboration, engaging and helpful coworkers build a community of compassion in overt and subtle ways.
Perhaps as a major deadline looms closer and closer, tempers shorten and tension grows. There is a palatable feeling of discomfort among coworkers. Those who aren’t directly responsible for meeting the deadline feel the stress. They may discover their ability to accomplish even simple tasks diminished.
In that moment they have a choice. They can ignore the mounting tension and withdraw into their own work assignments or they can choose to help. Even if they choose to withdraw, their output may be mediocre since the stress level in the office is heightened. In a collaborative work environment, the other choice is made.
With awareness, coworkers may ask what they can do that will reduce the tension. What they do may directly indirectly impact the completion of the project. Maybe they show up with coffee or offer to answer the phone. Providing support in ways that are not directly related to the project allows others to totally focus on the deadline. This kind of support is also non-tangible emotion support.
When possible a coworker may be able to actually help with the project. Another set of eyes to proofread, making copies, or listening for inconsistencies are ways to provide support. While other staff members are not integral to the project completion, their support can be immeasurable to the mental and emotional well being of the project’ team.
During times of high stress lending a hand sows the seeds of cooperation. While all staff has specific responsibilities, most position descriptions have a line “tasks as assigned.” In a compassionate work environment, those “assigned tasks” might be offering to help. When I worked at a retreat center, several times a year national conferences were held. Even though I was the marketing coordinating, I would find myself stuffing folders before the event and bussing tables during meals. Not only was I able to provide needed support, but, after the event, the staff reached a higher level of support and camaraderie.
This willingness to help a coworker or a team of coworkers strengthens the foundation of the work community. Although team building occurs, often without thought, in those day-to-day moments of helping, more structured teambuilding activities create and strengthen the collective consciousness. Within the collective consciousness we share beliefs, ideas, and values. We see others as a part of the group not as a part from the group.
Celebrating special occasions like birthday and promotions shift relationships into a deeper connection. Holding retreats in which members get to know one another as individuals and as members of a team increases an awareness of the individuals who work together. Using tools like personality inventories coworkers learn about one another’s work and communication styles. Understanding and respect for differences is gained.
Respect of differences is a key to compassionate response. This fuels our ability to work with others regardless of our perceived, and their perceived, quirks. With each moment of cooperation, team building, and lending a helping hand, a collaborative environment is sustained. The shift from seeing another as a cog, a replaceable part of a machine, to real person occurs.
We become part of a flourishing work environment. No longer can a coworker ignore the stress of another when coworkers because real, living beings. Each act of collaboration is an act of compassion.
Vanessa F. Hurst is a community builder who works with organizations to identify compassion aspects of their culture and to create a collaborative environment. She consults with organizations to strengthen relationships with current stakeholders and invites new stakeholders to the community.