When it comes to building relationships with Indian colleagues, it’s food that matters the most, according to Mumbai-based operations manager Neha Thadani. Three years ago, when Thadani joined her current company, an MNC based in Mumbai, the newness of the office was overwhelming. “It was a disconcerting experience," says the 35-year-old, “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know how things worked, so I decided to change that with food."

Every day, she would bring something new to office, sweet or savoury, and made it a point to walk across to a couple of colleagues at mid-morning, introduce herself and offer them snacks. “Most people took a breather, talked about what kind of food they loved, and this camaraderie continued as our personal conversations started," says Thadani. The initial hesitation over, within a week, her colleagues were inviting her for coffee breaks in the evening, or for lunch, introducing her to others. Within a month, Thadani knew a lot of people in her office, from top management to her juniors, and could find someone to help her out if she was stuck in her work. “Because of food, I could find the human side to the managers and bosses in my office, and connect to them beyond the work they gave me," says Thadani, something that she feels has helped her tremendously throughout her jobs.

Building relationships at work are as important as the tasks the employees have been hired for, according to Neharika Vohra, professor (organizational behaviour), Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. “Relationships are the glue that binds tasks and teams, so they need to be paid attention to," she says. In the beginning it is best to observe, understand and recognize the pattern of networks within your workplace. “Take initiative to reach out to people, help someone with something you can offer, show people that you are interested in them," adds Vohra.

Sathappan S. says being interested in how other people work is a great way to break the ice
Sathappan S. says being interested in how other people work is a great way to break the ice

Sathappan S. used this approach to build his network within Indegene, a Bengaluru-based heathcare and pharmaceutical company, where he was hired as a strategic manager in May 2016. “I was hired in a cross-functional role without my own team and since my everyday work had to deal with five to 10 colleagues, I needed to bond, and bond with them fast," says the 34-year-old. Sathappan started by being introduced through a couple of colleagues he had known before joining the company. Afterwards, he employed what he calls “genuine networking". “I asked real inquisitive questions on what a colleague was working on, what function or division they belonged to within the company, and how their work helped the company achieve success and listened keenly," he says. This genuine interest and listening helped Sathappan see the company through the perspective of his colleagues, something vitally important so he could get familiarized with the culture within the company and understand what goals to prioritize for himself.

“I’ve always found the act of offering to help my colleagues on some activity or task to be the most effective in building relationships. Once I help, the other person wants to help you back and this makes your bond stronger," he says. After two-and-a-half years at Indegene, Sathappan feels he couldn’t have achieved anything without collaborating with his colleagues. “The help and input I got from my colleagues, the unlimited cups of coffee I had with conversations on shared interests, shared values and shared vision, has helped me build strong relationships based on trust and credibility and I cherish that," he says.

Thadani agrees. She has used her food-offering technique to continue to build relationships even after three years with juniors and management alike. “Now I know who likes what, and I try to bring in something to cheer their work life," she says, adding that this has not only helped her bond with her colleagues but has also kept her positive, enjoy her work and keep away from toxic gossip. “If you pick up on the smaller things on what people like, they appreciate it and are willing to help you with a report, go out of their way if you’re in a jam workwise," she says.

Don’t go too friendly in the beginning though, cautions Vohra. “Step in a little tentatively. Don’t be seen as a protégé, or a shadow to one particular colleague or senior leader," she says. There’s no need to disturb the apple cart or try to be a system shaker as soon as you join. In the beginning, it’s always best to observe, understand, and recognize the patterns of networks within your workplace and then build positive relationships that will last longer. “In short, be observant, be proactive, and be patient," says Vohra.

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Building blocks

Be proactive. Help where you can. As a new person in the team, your colleagues want to see if you can deliver on team goals, so where possible, offer your knowledge and experience to group tasks and find a way to help out your colleagues with theirs.

Avoid gossip. Stay away from toxic people, office gossip and politics at the start. Working in large teams is complicated and you don’t want to risk your reputation by being too involved in gossip.

Be social. Food, coffee breaks, lunch, after-work drinks. Having conversations beyond what you’re working on is a great way to bond with your new colleagues. Take a break from work and talk about mutual hobbies or favourite restaurants.

Deliver and be prompt. Nothing will save you if your work itself is not up to the mark. Make sure all deadlines are met, you’re on time in meetings and well-prepared. All this leads to your new colleagues trusting you more.

Learn people’s names. Use these names in
conversations. Bring up something they might have mentioned in a conversation to make your colleagues know that you are a caring colleague

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