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We are family: corporate relationships and the roles people play

By Elaine Varelas, 2/5/2007

Most of us have colleagues at work who have the traits of a married couple - the work spouses. He knows she takes her coffee black with two Splendas, and she finishes his sentences. They work well as a team and their close friendship adds value to the organization.

This symbiotic relationship is common between a manager and his or her assistant, or two colleagues in the same department. You may even be part of a similar twosome at your organization.

Statistics show that many of us spend more of our waking hours at work than at home, so it makes sense that our work relationships sometimes morph into those resembling familial ones. Like families, where members take on different roles, employees take on recognizable personalities in the workplace.

Your work "family" may be healthy, with people working well together, or it could be dysfunctional-besieged by loud personalities, infighting, and jealousy. Regardless of which it is, how these roles and work relationships are managed can define an organization.

Here is a look at some of the "family" roles you may see at your organization:

Protective Big Brother and Sister-These people help you out just because-and they don't seek credit for their good deeds. They may change the meeting time on your calendar because they see you have it wrong, or deliver your mail because it's piling up. They are there to make things easier for you.

Husband-These men are the ones you call upon to help hang a picture, lug the heavy water bottle to the cooler, or ask advice about what flat screen TV to buy.

Wife-Work wives are great at selling things behind the scenes and building support for company directives by campaigning on a grassroots level. They can also deliver delicate information in a caring way, for example when another employee is in need of a wardrobe update.

Parent-These employees see something special in you and take you under their wing. They act as mentors and give you opportunities at the company. They may offer a stretch assignment so you can prove yourself to management, or take you along on a golf tournament to give you more face time with clients or senior management.

Cool Cousin-These younger workers know the trendy restaurants, the latest technology, and the hottest gifts. They are a great resource if you need to impress a client or buy a birthday present for your nephew.

Uncle or Aunt-These employees aren't always older, but they have been at the company longer. They keep you informed about the things you won't find in a manual. They let you know what's appropriate for casual Friday and tell you to get to staff meeting early because the boss's watch runs five minutes fast.

Grandfather-These executives are usually higher up in the company and aren't seen by the "peons" very often. They may come off as benefactors-or Scrooges.

Golden Child-These employees are worshipped by leadership, but you can't always figure out why. Some of them are true hard workers who get results. Others just happen to always be in the right place and the right time.

Squabbling Siblings-You often see these roles when two employees in identical positions report to the same manager. They compete for attention and try to one up the other. They often focus on what the other person gets from the manager, and forget to see what the manager gives them.

Twins-On the flip side, there can be employees reporting to the same manager who work great as a team. They help each other complete projects and work better together than apart. They are often inseparable.

Needy Cousin-When you see these people coming, you sprint in the other direction. They need help dislodging a paper jam, want you to hold their hand through a project, have never changed a toner cartridge in their lives, and eat up your precious time complaining about everything!

Brat-These employees take the last cup of coffee without making another pot, never refill the paper in the copy machine, and love to spread office gossip.

Familial relationships are inevitable in any workplace. Fortunately, having a diverse mix of characters in your work family can be beneficial-it can bring depth and color to your organization.

What kind of roles do people play at your company? And how can human resources managers encourage healthy relationships? HR managers can make the most of their company's diversity. One way to do this is to train managers to recognize the warning signs of dysfunctional relationships and head them off; while encouraging and fostering positive ones.

Like it or not, we are judged by the company we keep, so help keep your company on track by promoting an environment where healthy relationships thrive.

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