The French term “esprit de corps” means a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by members of a particular group. When I read about the most admired corporations or the best places to work, the common thread among these articles is the presence of an engaged, committed workforce.
The dilemma for many organizations is how to attract and develop this type of workforce. While this may be a topic better suited for a dissertation, in this brief post I’d like to focus on only one aspect of inspiring commitment to a shared purpose: knowing and using coworkers’ names.
We have all known or heard of charismatic leaders who “know every employee by name.” And the best of these leaders also know the names of these employees’ spouses and children, hobbies and interests outside of work, or other personal details that they’ve gathered during numerous informal conversations over the weeks, months, and years working together.
This not only applies to superior-to-subordinate relationships, but also to peer-to-peer relationships. While employees may know the names of their immediate work group (e.g., administration or the AM shift), how about other work groups (e.g., accounting or the PM shift)? Not knowing the name of a coworker from a different department or shift may not qualify as outright disrespect, but it may convey benign neglect – which fosters a culture of indifference and unconcern.
So how does one learn the names of all those people? While the methods may vary, I can say this with certainty: it requires initiative and a willingness to expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice. Be creative. As an illustration, consider the tactic used by my son’s high school soccer coach in this testimonial:
Our coach emphasized from the very first day of practice that we, as teammates, were a brotherhood. As such, it was important that teammates form relationships. And key to any relationship is knowing each other’s names. With that in mind, Coach Baird encouraged each boy to learn the names of each of his 20 teammates.
And to motivate them to do so, Coach Baird would randomly ask a player to state the name of another player. If he got their name wrong, he would have the entire team run a lap around the soccer field. Toward the end of one particularly tough practice, the coach asked one of the boys to state the name of another player.
The boy paused for a moment and then, with 19 exhausted athletes encouraging him with their eyes, tentatively said, “E-e-s-u-f?”
Coach Baird corrected him, enunciating, “It’s Y-u-s-u-f.”
Then, Yusuf, hoping to spare himself and his teammates from having to run another lap, pleaded, “My mother sometimes calls me Eesuf.”
After momentarily considering the boy’s plea, the coach shook his head and said, “Run.”
I realize that Coach Baird’s approach may not work for you and your team, but make learning the names of those with whom you work: superiors, peers, and subordinates, a priority. Then, take it a step further and resolve to learn something unique about coworkers as informal opportunities arise. Doing so will foster an inclusive work culture brimming with pride, fellowship, and commitment to a common purpose.
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Illustration by Aaron McKissen.