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Why Water Cooler Conversation is Underrated

In Company Culture — by Vinod Kumaar

Recruiterbox team bonding

Working in teams isn’t easy. Whenever you add a new person to the team, the dynamic will inevitably change. People who work well on their own might struggle when placed on a team – it could be that particular set of people, or maybe just the addition of other people in general. We can get into countless permutations of interests, personalities, tools, problems and priorities to be solved. Getting to a working combination is so difficult and often we end up situations that are less than optimal. Most of the time, problems arise due to personalities and interests.

Getting the conversation started is the first challenge teams face. There’s a number of reasons people may be reluctant to participate: maybe they’re shy, maybe they lack confidence, maybe they don’t want to offend anyone. I’ve found that if there’s a common interest among team members, conversation becomes a lot easier. The trick is to uncover those common interests. Once these are discovered, people have a point of connection, and the environment becomes a nicer place to work. 

This reminds me of a phenomenon observed in bacteria, called quorum sensing. Bacteria don’t exhibit their behavior until they know that there’s a minimum set of similar bacteria nearby. Each one emits a signal molecule with a signature unique to the type of bacteria. If they begin receiving a lot of signals, they then turn on their behavior.

If people are always preoccupied with work and only have work-related conversations with colleagues, it’s hard to really get to know each other. There have to be mechanisms in place at the office for peers to express outside interests and expertise. The small talk that happens by the water cooler isn’t wasting time – it’s building connections that will foster teamwork and productivity. If people have an outlet at work to relax and have fun, there eventually won’t be any ice to break.

At Recruiterbox, some of our bonding opportunities include our daily buffet lunch, video games in the evenings, hackathons, soccer tournaments and retreats. What are some of the ways colleagues bond with each other at your firm?

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