Enough of the Banter!

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. 


Group Facilitation & Team Development, Obi James Consultancy Limited

As Founder of Obi James Consultancy Limited, I specialise in Group Facilitation & Leadership Team Development. I help leaders, teams and groups achieve better, sustainable results by transforming how they work together to ensure that they maximise their resources. I have over 10 years experience of successfully designing and delivering people, leadership and team development programmes to hundreds of business leaders and teams across large multinational organisations like Deloitte, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Northern Trust. My experiences taught me that when high-performing individuals come together, they often do not make high-performing teams. Competition, unhealthy conflict and lack of alignment get in the way of effective decision-making, productivity and client service. Since setting up my consultancy firm in 2010, I have further studied neuroleadership, deepening my understanding of the neuroscience of collaboration, decision making, and change management. I am a Certified Team Performance Coach and a Certified Organisational and Relationship Systems Coach through CRR Global. In 2015, I joined CRR Global's Faculty and now train leaders, HR professionals and coaches on systemic thinking and team dynamics, helping them to transform their organisational cultures. In addition to facilitating a number of team development journeys at any given time, I also work as a Quality Improvement Coach with the NHS where I am working with 5 primary care leaders and their teams by employing systematic, data-guided activities to help them create sustainable improvements in the performance of healthcare processes, whilst coping with the demands of the public and the government. My clients include various executives and teams within organisations such as the Mayor of London’s teams, Bloomberg, TSB, Barclays, Lloyds, Farfetch and Royal African Society. For more information, please visit http://www.obijames.com/

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