Sunday, December 16, 2007

Working With Friends -- Boon or Bane?

“Never put too much trust in friends: learn how to use enemies” – Law 2, “The Concise 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene

I would, in this essay, not be writing about any major socio-political issue. Instead, I would be writing on a more mundane topic; a topic that I mused about in a wandering of the mind during my recent exam revision (i.e. my eyes were looking at my revision notes but my mind was somewhere else). And the topic of my choice, as can be deduced from the title of this essay, is: is it a boon or bane to work with one’s friends?

Although I may be wrong about this but I would assume that when placed in charge of a major project (and perhaps given the right to choose the people whom one wish to work with and be assisted by), most people would most likely prefer to choose individuals whom one is more familiar, if not are friends, with. It is seldom the case that one would choose to work with and be assisted by total strangers.

However, the question that people, in my opinion, need to ask is this: are there any potential problems in working with and being the superior of one’s friends? And a secondary question to ask would logically be: would these potential problems outweigh the potential benefits?

Well, my answer to the first question mentioned above would be: “Yes”. But as for the second question, I am afraid that I am still not able to come up with a definitive answer to it. Perhaps you all, after reading my following exposition on the potential problems and benefits of working with and being the superior of one’s friends, can come up with your own answers to the second question.

One potential problem, in my opinion, of working with friends, especially in a superior-subordinate relationship, would evidently be that one’s friends, concerned with the possibility of potentially damaging a pre-existing friendship, may be hesitant to provide honest and necessary criticism about one’s ideas, plans, working behaviour and etc. The same can be said for if one, worried with souring a friendship, is reluctant to be stricter with one’s subordinates whom happen to also be one’s friends. [Aside: it is of course entirely possible to have friends who are honest enough to provide necessary criticism, without fear of jeopardising a friendship, but I suppose such friends are rare in quantity] This of course would not be beneficial to whatever project one is placed in charge of.

Yet, of course, it may be at the same time argued that there are certain things that friends can say to each other which strangers cannot. The implication of this, when placed in the context of the topic in discussion here in this essay, would be that one’s subordinates and/or superior, if they are also one’s friends, may be able to say some things that people whom one is less familiar with may not feel comfortable enough to voice out.

That aside, another potential problem of being in a superior-subordinate working relationship with one’s friends would perhaps be that such a relationship could expose aspects, which could be unfavourable to the maintenance of a friendship, of one’s personality. To use a crude example, it is likely that one, especially if one is the person in charge of a major project, could, burdened with the stressful demand of ensuring the success of the project, just crack and lose one’s temper (it would be even worse if one starts to be verbally abusive) towards those whom one is working with. Although this may perhaps only slightly affect the project (in the sense it could negatively affect the morale of the project team), it would of course have a damaging effect on a pre-existing friendship.

But, it may also be the case that being in a superior-subordinate working relationship with one’s friends could strengthen the bonds of friendships. This is considering that the going through of trying times together and experiencing the successful fruition of a major project that they have worked together on can strengthen pre-existing friendships for those on the project team. Such a strengthening of the bonds of friendship could possibly not be possible if one have not gone through the good and bad times of working on a major project together with one’s friends.

And it may be observed that one advantage of working with friends on a major project could perhaps be that less time, if not no time at all, need to be spend on getting to know one’s project teammates since everyone already know one another. This bypassing of the “Hi, my name is…” stage would facilitate the efficiency and effectiveness of the project team since work can be started on almost immediately.

Moving on, it could also prove problematic if one, desiring to choose to work with people whom one is more familiar with and/or are friends with, choose people who are not exactly the most competent or suitable. This would evidently not contribute towards the success of the project that one is placed in charge of. The project may still succeed but it would perhaps be a greater success if one, putting aside one’s desire to have familiar and/or friendly faces on one’s project team, chooses individuals who, though they may be complete strangers to one, are the best and/or most suitable people for the job. [Aside: and as what my friend have said: “You may just become friends with these strangers after working with them”]

And continuing from the point above, I suppose that when people are chosen by their friends to work with them on a major project, they, especially those who may be less confident in their own competence, could perhaps have this nagging doubt in their minds: “Was I chosen because I am a friend?” Again, this could cut both ways; it can either be a plus point or a negative point.

It may be a plus point if those with such a doubt in their minds work extra hard at the tasks assigned to them so as to demonstrate to others (including the friend who have chosen them) and perhaps even to themselves that they have the necessary competence and were not chosen only because they are friends with the project team leader.

On the other hand, if those with such a doubt become obsessed with it and become convinced somehow that they were selected only because they are friends with the project team leader, it would, for reasons which I would not elaborate upon for brevity’s sake, most likely be detrimental to both the project and the pre-existing friendship.

Yet another problem of choosing to work with friends in a superior-subordinate relationship would perhaps emerge if the team also consists of members who are not friends with the project team leader but are aware of the pre-existing friendly relationships between certain other members of the team and the team leader. This is considering that these non-friend team members may start to doubt the impartiality of the team leader and of the competence of those members who are friends of the team leader. It could also prove even more problematic especially if the team leader, consciously or otherwise, behave more intimately towards those members of the team who are his/her friends and thus resulting in the non-friend members feeling left out. All this would evidently not add to the morale, unity and effectiveness of the team.

To conclude, I would have to say that if forced to answer the question of: “is it a boon or bane to work with one’s friends?”, I would answer: “It can be both a boon and bane”. Lest you all think I am just evading the question, allow me to say that, in my opinion, there is really no clear cut answer to the question; it really depends on a whole range of different factors whether it is a wise decision to choose to work with one’s friends, especially in superior-subordinate relationship. In the end, if one really wishes to choose to work with friends, it would perhaps be best that one choose competent & honest friends who are able to differentiate and separate between a friendly personal relationship and a professional working relationship (of course, it is virtually impossible to know this for certain unless one have already worked with these friends before or know people whom have worked with them before).

1 comment:

chillycraps said...

i have both good times and bad experience working with friends. The bad times is when the nasty stuff spill over to friendship, then the relationship is hurt. The good times... well... you know each other's style, you can use it to your group's advantage.

I guess it is pretty much like whether couples should work in the same organization.

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