Unsung Heroes of Work Culture: The Critical Role of Transfer Helpers in Improving Collaboration

In reflecting back across my career and the various companies I’ve worked for, there are specific individuals who come to mind who made my role and my time with each organization better.

Certainly, friendships with teammates, individuals who we might consider our “work husband” or “work wife,” and close mentors make an impact in a working environment, but there is a different kind of workplace individual who rarely gets their deserved recognition.

In one of my first jobs out of college, it was N. She wasn’t the CEO or even on the leadership team, but it was clear from the beginning her value far outstripped her title. I was early in my career, full of theoretical knowledge and very little applied real-world experience. She wasn’t my direct supervisor, but she was the person who suggested better practices and tips when she saw me struggling, the person who helped me anticipate problems before they cropped up, the person who gave me historic context for certain projects or structures, and she was the person I could confide in or turn to for guidance when trying to navigate situations that didn’t necessarily rise to the level of my supervisor. I knew I could come to her with the dumbest question and not be ridiculed. I could also come to her with challenging workplace issues and receive wise, well-thought-out guidance. To say her emotional intelligence was off the charts would be an understatement.

In that role, I had excellent leadership and supervisors, but upon reflection, N’s support (both subtle and overt) made a tremendous impact on how I felt about that job through all its ups and downs. It also helped me grow as an employee and as an individual.

Across my other jobs and roles since, there has occasionally been an individual with N’s capacity. Sometimes the individual has been one of the longest-standing employees with the organization, in other cases, a board member engaged above and beyond their role description. In all instances, they made a critical impact. In the organizations that lacked such an individual, that absence also made a critical impact.

In one case, it was a senior leader of another team within the office. He and his team didn’t work directly with mine often, but his brotherly disposition and approachability made him beloved among junior staff across the entire office. He would casually check in with us after meetings to make sure things were understood and to see if there were any questions not asked in front of the larger group. He somehow kept up with the little things going on in each of our lives and never walked through the office without stopping to ask about the new dog or the recent beach trip or the new album that dropped from a favorite band. These interactions weren’t forced; they clearly came from a place of genuine interest.

I was in that role during the Great Recession and, in retrospect, his honesty and compassion during that period of layoffs and turmoil were bright spots in the chaos. These many years later, I remember the visible grief on his face as he struggled with staff changes. I knew, as did the other employees, that whatever decisions were being made in the face of economic uncertainty, he was making them with real heartbreak. Others in leadership may have felt the same, but the unique relationship this senior leader had with everyone in the office made his struggle more obvious. It also deepened the respect and trust I had for him, then and to this day.

The presence or absence of someone with these qualities within an organization is tangible and impactful. These individuals, in their unsung but critical roles, are “transfer helpers.” Regardless of their official title, these individuals:

  • Grease the wheels of communication within an organization through their own connectivity.
  • Have a deep institutional knowledge that gives them comfort and dexterity with historical context.
  • Are approachable, regardless of title and/or seniority, and perceived as trustworthy and compassionate by even the most junior employee.
  • Extend respect toward everyone in their sphere.
  • Pay attention to the little, human details of the individuals with whom they work.
  • Are passionate about helping others and that generosity is genuine.
  • Impact the sense of belonging in the individuals and team around them.

We know from extensive research that these actions and qualities of transfer helpers impact the cultures of the teams and organizations to which they belong, yet organizations don’t typically hire individuals for this specific role, often leaving their presence up to chance. Their transfer helper actions exist as something above and beyond their actual job descriptions, requiring additional bandwidth from these individuals that can lead to burnout. Throw in the nature of remote work, and the absence of a transfer helper role and its ingrained connectivity becomes more noticeable and more challenging to fill.

An organization wouldn’t leave a critical component like finances or sales up to chance, so why leave something as essential as collaboration and culture so exposed?

With Unitonomy, our virtual colleague drives and incentivizes meaningful communication, including communication that embodies the traits of the very best transfer helpers, all while measuring and improving collaboration across all your people, far and wide. Even better, the virtual colleague operates inside the communication tools your team is already using, like Slack, Teams, or even email. Unitonomy is the missing tool for teams working side by side or around the globe.

Try our base system for free today! Visit Unitonomy.com to learn more!

Unitonomy: let’s work together better.

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