I am a social capitalist.

In case the title sounds like I’m claiming to be a hybrid of American capitalism and Non-American communism, that isn’t what I meant by social capitalism. I’m referring to the term “social capital” which has to do with the amount of interpersonal rooster-1183431-1279x1208give-and-take that exists within relationships (e.g. I have more social capital built up with my best friend than with a casual acquaintance).

At work last week, we watched Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk on super-chickens and the damage caused by pecking orders within communities.

If you didn’t have the 15 minutes that it takes to watch the video, the point from it that I wanted to discuss was the idea of building social capital within groups. Research has discovered that groups that trust each other–ones that have high levels of social capital–do better than groups that may have individually gifted individuals. And so, it is better for companies to foster employee relationships rather than praise overachievers and instigate division by disparate rewards.

So teams that have worked together for a long time tend to work better and produce better results due, in part, to the ability of individuals within that group to have honest dialogue about ideas and to be able to tell someone when an idea is stupid without it affecting their working relationship. But such honesty and teamwork can take a long time to build… with other people anyway.

I’ve only been at my job for about four months and I’ve had the opportunity to work on a dozen different teams so far. In theory, I shouldn’t have built up much social capital within those teams because I am so new. In practice, I think I have a fair amount of social capital because I assume more than I am entitled to. With most people, it has helped me contribute more to projects and faster than I might have otherwise. With a few people, I probably come across as presumptuous, thus setting my social capital level back before the relationship even started.

But most of the time, I have found it helpful to be the type of teammate that I’d like to see in others. I’ll be honest and share my opinions, whether I am entitled to them or not.

How do you build up social capital? How long does it take in your relationships to be honest with one another? What do you wish you could tell someone but you’ve kept to yourself because you didn’t want to ruffle any feathers?

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2 responses to “I am a social capitalist.

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