Enough of the Banter!

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Sep 28, 2018

The Oxford English Dictionary defines banter as, "The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks."

Years of working in the financial services sector in London taught me that banter in the workplace is a way of life. To be honest, I loved the banter. I still do. When right, it brings humour, connection and builds trust in workplace relationships and teams.

Unfortunately, banter can gets misused and can create toxic work environments that impact engagement and productivity. This is an issue that cropped up in a number of our team coaching sessions last year, and is bound to do so again.

In these sessions, we have come across team members that are quick to point fingers - "He is the worst culprit, Her remarks are deadly",...and so on.

In these cases, rather than single out an individual in a team for a behavior that lives in the system, Relationship Systems Intelligence tells us that everything that happens in a system is an expression of that system.

In the case of a particular team that uses banter in an unhealthy manner, our question to them becomes:

"What is it that lives in your system or what unspoken rules do you have, that make it okay for individuals to hurt one another, in the name of banter? "

The banter needs to stop when:

  1. It is hurtful to anyone: it doesn't matter what your intentions are or how much joy banter brings, if it is hurting someone's feelings or causing discomfort, stop!
  2. It marginalises: if it excludes others or makes anyone feel like they cannot join in. This can often be the case because of various privileges (usually not acknowledged) that some team members may have over others - it could be the privilege of being male or female, being a native language speaker or not, generational differences etc. The list is endless!
  3. It distracts from the work: this goes without saying. As much as healthy banter builds engagement, we also know that it can distract from work and when excessive, impacts productivity. That balance between engagement and productivity is one to always pay attention to.

Now, over to you…

Any comments on the joy or pain that comes with banter?

If you would like to discuss specific cases or other behaviours that impact your team engagement and/or performance, get in touch for an informal chat.

Obi James specialises in shaping organisational culture by transforming workplace relationships and teams. She has a track record of successfully helping clients to navigate systemic and cultural issues that emerge in relationships, mergers, acquisitions and organisational change initiatives.

Particularly skilled at creating safe environments for courageous ‘deep democracy’ conversations that allow individuals and teams to expand their views on complex issues, explore other perspectives and understand others’ views so they can build better collaboration, and achieve greater results. 

Go to the profile of OBI JAMES


Org Culture Transformation , Obi James Consultancy Limited

Show me your leadership team and I'll tell you about your organisational culture. I am a culture change consultant and executive coach who specialises in creating a culture of shared leadership within organisations - often starting by employing my VIBE methodology to help leadership teams align around their vision, identity, behaviors and engagement - of all stakeholders, but most importantly of their people. I strongly believe that your leaders and leadership team's ways of working with one another shape your culture. With 15 years’ experience of successfully developing leaders, teams and organisations such as NHS, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Greater London Authority and Northern Trust, my methods have been designed to drive inclusion so that organisations can unleash the power of the collective - not just that of individuals. By pooling individual capabilites, my team and I strengthen workplace relationships leading to more effective communication, decision-making and collaboration - as all voices (particularly the marginalised ones who often deliver greater insight, creativity and innovation) are re-engaged and empowered to challenge the status quo. A former Vice President in HR, trained mediator and certified executive coach, I am also a certified Organisational and Relationship Systems Coach (ORSCC) and Team Performance Coach (CTPC). I also serve on the Faculty for Centre for Right Relationships (CRR Global) and train leaders, HR professionals and coaches on systems thinking empowering them to shape stronger cultures within their organisations. I regularly facilitate collective leadership across organisations, with clients including various executives and leadership teams within organisations such as UNHCR, Greater London Authority (GLA), Bloomberg, Blackrock, Lloyds, Farfetch, Save the Children and the NHS. In 2019, I was elected to join the Board of Trustees for Royal African Society (RAS) and have been interviewed on CNBC Africa, Africa’s first and most powerful business media brand. In 2019, I became a Judge for the International Business Book category at The 2019 Business Book Awards and will be judging one of the categories in 2020. I have spoken on Collective Leadership and the Power of Collaboration at global events such as the Finance Transformation Summit and at Cass Business School.  For more information, please visit http://www.obijames.com/

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