Building Social Capital at Work

Building Social Capital at Work

What it is…
  • Social capital is the reliance and trust among groups; makes companies robust and resilient.
  • SC compounds with time; time to develop the trust that promotes real candor and openness.

Facilitate work sharing and helpfulness

  • Devise work activities that coworkers accomplish together, especially if they don’t customarily work together; this facilitates getting to know colleagues better.
  • Provide regular opportunities for people to share something they’ve learning recently (within the context of the work of the organization).
  • Try this empathy-building exercise at staff meetings or staff days: Ask coworkers with different work roles to pair up. Each person in a pair explains their role and their needs so clearly to their colleague that the colleague can promote/defend the role to the whole group. (See the example in the source notes below.)

Facilitate casual connections at work

  • Find ways to encourage people to intersect casually at work. One company banned coffee cups at desks in order to urge people to hang out around the office coffee machine and talk to each other. There is a Swedish word for this ⎯“fika,” which means collective restoration.
  • Encourage people to get away from their desks and eat lunch together. Schedule periodic “lunch club” opportunities, where everyone gathers for lunch and contributes a menu item to share.
  • Start staff meetings with some personal sharing, such as something fun they’ve done recently, a book they are reading, or a movie/show they enjoyed.
  • Dedicate a wall to a display of all employees, with photos, notes on their backgrounds, recent projects, and nonwork interests.
  • Ask people to create a short biographical presentation about themselves in a medium of choice ⎯PowerPoint, performed sketches, songs, stories, or video. One company regularly stopped work early on Friday afternoons to allow time for people to deliver their presentations.
  • Caution: avoid coerced personal sharing; requiring people to share personal information with work colleagues can backfire into resentment and mistrust of management. Building social capital is about patiently cultivating a culture in which people see the benefits of getting to know their colleagues better and are motivated to open up to each other over time.

Facilitate connections outside of work

  • Schedule regular “happy hour” get-togethers outside of work –monthly or as schedules allow.
  • Suggest that people schedule “walking time” on their calendars to encourage each other to get out of the building and walk together one or more times per week.
  • Start a vegetable garden to get people from different parts of the organization to literally get their hands dirty and work together.
  • Look for local events that are low-cost or free, such as art walks or summer outdoor concerts and suggest that team members meet up and experience the event together.
  • Caution: remain sensitive to individuals who may not feel included for one reason or another. Find time to talk to them one-on-one to explore their feelings and seek ways to overcome their sense of isolation.


Forget the pecking order at work; Margaret Hefferman TED talk
Example of Role Pair/Share
When it came time to draw up the company’s annual budget, each department head drew up a budget for that department — but then had to explain it so cogently to one colleague that the colleague could defend it at the leadership team meeting. The chief technology officer would argue the case for marketing, the head of sales spoke on behalf of operations, customer care explained technology’s needs. The impact of this simple exercise was profound. Everyone had to see the whole company through eyes not their own. They felt duty-bound to do the best job possible — if only to ensure their counterpart did likewise. They had to listen to everyone, not just wait their turn. In effect, Vallone was teaching empathy: getting each executive to see the company through the eyes of others and to appreciate the vital connections and dependencies between one another.
How to Invest in Social Capital; Harvard Business Review