Drawing Boundaries at Work: When friendship stifles growth

By Rav Gill

One of the things that I have found tough when managing a team in a kitchen is something that I think a lot of people struggle with – and that’s wanting to be everyone’s mate, whilst being their boss.

A friendly dynamic within a team can be a really good thing, to encourage open communication and help those feel comfortable expressing themselves. However, sometimes this can go a bit far and lead to an environment where boundaries get blurred, loyalty ends up trapping a team and preventing growth, and it becomes difficult to raise issues when things go wrong – for both the employer and the employee.


Think about it both ways. Trying to have a hard conversation with your boss / employee is hard enough. Now layer on a friendship dynamic; that can be really tough. Not only are you trying to navigate a professional issue but it is weighted with the emotional baggage of trying to give criticism to a friend. This is tough on both sides – an employer not being real with you because you’re mates is actually stunting your growth and improvement in the long run. And not being honest with your boss because you’re afraid it will hurt their feelings could have an impact on the team or future of that business.


Basing a team on friendship is great, but it is also unstable. Think about it like this, people come with baggage don’t they? Everyone has their own shit, their own experiences, ways of working, understanding of life, differences in culture, upbringing, communication and so much more.


It can be exhilarating when the dynamic really works, that’s something that we should all strive towards. But remember that even when you think the dynamic works, it can change overnight.

People come and go, or their lives change. Managing a team is like riding a rollercoaster.


If you don’t have work boundaries in place, losing that friendship structure can mean losing a whole culture. Additionally, one person’s tight team is another person’s clique – a dynamic built on unprofessional footings tends to only work for a few people, and that’s a huge risk in a company. For those reasons, setting work boundaries is important and putting routine practices in place can really help navigate what can be the hardest part of running a restaurant, or any company.

Here are some things that can help when working to set a healthy company culture:

Reminding yourself and coming back to the notion that setting boundaries and establishing work relationships with those you might quite want to be friends with, is helping both parties.

It’s necessary for growth. Getting too close can cause employees to feel trapped in their job, developing feelings of guilt towards leaving. Although the job market is scarce, it’s important that growth is encouraged. Employees are shown that there is structure for them to grow and develop within the company and that once they have reached their full potential it’s OK to move on. Think about it, one of the worst things you can do is create resentment in a team and people talk. Employees who are encouraged to grow are more likely to maintain a good relationship with their workplace, recommend it to friends and even return in the future.


It’s important to encourage an open dialogue in which people feel valued and understood.

This is essential because teams are often made up of lots of different personalities. Regular team meetings where open feedback is encouraged and issues are addressed help people feel heard.


Remain neutral.

Deliberately favouring one colleague above another can alienate the rest of the team. It can cause some employees to not want to open up and discuss issues that they are facing out of fear of being alienated or disrupting a friendly dynamic.


There is a line, and I definitely don’t mean we shouldn’t have fun at work or be unfriendly. But the line needs to be drawn when being someone’s work friend impacts the dynamic of positive growth – on both sides.

Anthony Burrill says "Work hard and be nice to people". But don't work with someone, become their best mate and then burn the place down.

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