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The Social Fabric of Work

Having taken a look at our “basic human needs”, I’d like to explore something I introduced in the first post of this series, the concept of the “social fabric of work”.

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and to forget that our colleagues have needs just like we do, and although we should take time to consider and nurture our own needs, the needs of others play an important role in the fabric of our working environment. 

Simply defined, this social fabric is a network of interconnected relationships and responsibilities to each other. As we spend longer in our roles these relationships solidify into patterns and routines, meaning that we come to depend on them. It’s this structured patchwork of our shared relationships and fulfilment of our own needs that binds us together. 

I was exploring this idea with a construction company in onshore wind, when working with an operational site team about their leadership and culture, during a series of site visits for the company.

Exploring this with the groups was insightful for me and each of the teams I visited. As each person in the group shared their sense of things, their likes, dislikes, hopes, ambitions, worries, frustrations, they began, while sharing, to reveal a picture of the team’s social fabric and the quality of their conversations - of their relationships - with one another.  

In an operational context this is critical “human work” – particularly to safety, quality and productivity. Each gesture, response, and the meaning made, impacts how we engage.

It’s always this exposé that makes the difference because it provides a health check on the relationships that hold the team together – and directly impacts results. Starting from this point, everyone in the group can begin to nurture those relationships more effectively, asking both ‘How am I?’ and ‘How are you?’ – then “how are WE?” - working toward the greater benefit of the team’s performance.

This social fabric is also not a static concept. Teams change over time as situations alter and members join or leave. For a team, this can often bring a sense of loss because individuals are forced to abandon aspects of their work identity and reconfigure their relationships with each other, perhaps even losing status and influence within the group’s hierarchy – or the opposite of course. 

In an operational world, team leaders and site managers are key here: by paying attention to how different types of change – and behaviour - affect their team’s social fabric.

It’s crucial to regularly bring groups together – be that on-site, in boardrooms, or offices - to ask these questions together, in order to offer insights into the health of your organisation’s social fabric.

Question - how much are you nurturing YOUR SOCIAL FABRIC in YOUR groups at work?

Steve Holliday
Leadership & Organisational Change Specialist, Lacerta Consulting Service Ltd