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If you are a team leader, you might wonder how to become friends with your team members. Or you may wonder if it is even possible to be friends with those you oversee. The truth is there is no simple answer. Workplace friendships between leaders and team members can be complicated. When you oversee rating your team members’ work and making decisions that impact their livelihood, the power dynamics can make an authentic friendship difficult.

However, that does not mean you cannot build a genuine camaraderie with your team members. It just means you should not treat them like your best friends outside of work. When you show that you care about your people and you do not see them as replaceable units, you can often inspire them to be more creative, productive and feel more secure in their roles.

You must establish boundaries

You can talk to your personal friends about anything, but you need to remain mindful about what you discuss with your work friends. As a leader, it is important to set the tone and show that you are friendly and interested in your team, but that you are still the leader. Rather than rehashing what is going on in your personal life with one of your team members, keep firm work-personal boundaries in place. You can also be upfront about your stance. Let your team know that you have a “work first, personal life second” attitude. When done properly, this could even lead to a more engaged team. 

Be willing to create conversations

While it is not a good idea to only talk about personal topics, it is good to build relationships by talking about life outside of work sometimes. That is how you get to know those on your team. With all the remote work now, you may find it easier to learn more about your team members when you see their children, pets, homes, and décor during video calls. You might use what you see as a conversation starter. When you see your team members in their personal element, you can connect on something other than project updates.  
You must plan structured social time

An additional way to build connections while remaining professional is to create time for socialization. This can be virtual team happy hours our weekly one-on-ones with direct reports. Those meetings are to discuss work-related topics only. Casual conversations can lead to discoveries about your team. And, when you follow up about them later, it demonstrates that you care about your team.

You can be friendly at work and even have meaningful workplace friendships. Just be sure to stay open to chatting with everyone, even those you may not immediately share commonalities with. When you care about those you manage and you seek to form bonds with all your team members, connections will naturally form.  And this will help you thrive.

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