In our professional lives, it is easy to get lost in the never-ending cycle of tasks and responsibilities, often confining our interactions to our departments.

United Way of Calgary and Area is working to create opportunities to bridge departmental divides and nurture relationships beyond roles, teams, or office boundaries. We know that when we unlock the collective potential of our diverse workforce, we can be unstoppable.

Our All-Staff meetings and retreats are one way we’re doing this. By bringing us together and creating interdepartmental seating arrangements, organizers are helping to break down silos and encourage the flow of ideas within our organization. And at the June 2023 All-Staff retreat, this small move paved the way for something remarkable.

As the day unfolded, one table found themselves immersed in conversations that went beyond the usual work topics. Daisy Giroux, Diane Tan, Greg Callsen, Liney Beltran and Wendy Mendes, laughed, engaged in spirited debates, and gradually shed the layers of formality that can get in the way of authentic connections. A chance arrangement has led to a camaraderie that exists to this day, with the group keeping in touch and growing connections across the organization.

The power of connection

Daisy Giroux, Lead for the Akak’stiman Indigenous Strategy, says the intentional seating arrangement sparked an organic exchange of perspectives. “We just clicked! It happened organically and we built a rapport with each other and wanted to keep this going,” she says.

Diane Tan, Community Impact Strategist, shared that it was nice to be honest with each other, discuss the challenges our departments face, identify some of the assumptions we make about other departments, and then to talk them through. She appreciates how Daisy articulates the importance of making relatives, something she said this chance pairing fostered.

It was the first in-person meeting after COVID for Greg Callsen, Content Marketing Lead and Liney Beltran, Project Manager, Transformation, who emphasized the value of face-to-face interactions to foster a sense of unity. The shared experience of reconnecting in-person after a prolonged period of virtual engagement was key in establishing trust and camaraderie, a feeling that resonated with everyone at the table.

For Wendy Mendes, Director of Community Impact and Partnerships, the retreat offered invaluable insights into the power of relationships. She highlighted the transformative effect of intentional relationship-building, urging colleagues to embrace opportunities for spontaneous conversations and shared experiences. She dedicates time during her in-office workdays to building relationships and living our intentional value of Putting People First.

“Make the effort to walk around when you’re in the office. Make it a part of the day at the office to chat with people and build meaningful relationships. Relationships are everything,” she says.

Long-term impact

While scheduling can be a challenge, the group continues to stay in touch through virtual meetings. Here, the discussion ranges from work challenges to personal sharing. “The foundation for our continued connection is trust, honesty, and mutual respect,” says Diane.

Liney feels comfort in knowing she can easily reach out to someone in Marketing & Communications or the Executive Office for assistance anytime she needs. She often finds herself reaching out to Daisy on a project and says running into familiar faces from other teams in the office brings a sense of familiarity. She is thankful for the trust and rapport built during the retreat that led to this bond between all of them.

The session and interaction also sparked a desire for Greg to be proactive about our culture. He joined the Culture Champions Committee soon after the meeting, driven by a firm belief that while the organization is already a good place to work, it has the potential to be even greater.

“The key to success here is to get to know as many people as you can outside of your particular team. Building connections pays you back in so many dividends,” says Greg.

We are proud to see our colleagues living the United Way values and encourage all of us to make connections across all of the departments in our organization.

United Way’s next All-Staff retreat will take place on June 12, 2024.

Supportive and kind workplaces are essential to mental health. This story was posted during the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week ((May 6 – 12). Learn more here.