Ellie Dyer gets some tips from the experts on how to build a sense of community in the office. Photograph by Conor Wall.

We’ve all been there. That sinking feeling on a Monday morning as another working week begins. But even in the most challenging of environments, colleagues can make all the difference. A friend to share a joke with or talk over a problem can quickly turn a negative situation into a positive one.

The last few years have seen a rise in local companies boosting team spirit by building understanding and unity in office environments in new and creative ways. At the forefront of the movement is Ripple Effect Consulting Asia Pacific, run by New Zealander and fluent Khmer speaker Todd Smith.

The company offers motivational and interactive training sessions, staff retreats and workshops that promote a wide range of skills – from management techniques to critical thinking – often using interactive activities to break down people’s barriers and established pecking orders.

“It’s all about them not just receiving stuff, good experience and ideas, but then passing that on to their team,” explains Smith, who has a background working in youth leadership and has lived in Cambodia for the past 15 years.

A sense of community in the office Ellie Dyer gets some tips from the experts on how to build a sense of community in the office“There’s the Cambodian proverb that two tigers can’t live on one mountain, or they’ll kill each other. In New Zealand, we call it the tall poppy syndrome – if someone’s growing, growing, growing, then cut them down,” he adds.

“That’s prevalent in lots of cultures – we don’t pass on information because we’re afraid for various reasons. But the whole principle of passing on causes you to be dynamic and to grow.”

To foster a close-knit team, Smith emphasises the importance of communication along with positive leadership styles that encourage staff empowerment.

“A lot of people are afraid to thrive here,” he says. “I think there’s a fear to do something outside the box, so we do a lot about creative decision making, creative thinking skills and critical thinking skills” he adds, recommending that managers ensure that they take time out to reflect.

Spending around 10 to 15 minutes to plan out your week can be beneficial, along with keeping a pen and pad of paper by your bed to jot down your thoughts.

And with increasing numbers of international firms launching in Cambodia’s booming economy, cross-cultural miscommunication can be factor in many offices.

Smith describes situations where foreign staff may unnecessarily offend or jump to conclusions about a colleague’s behaviour without considering the reasons behind it. “It’s got to be a partnership that empowers both, and you grow together,” he says.

Ripple Effect is not the only organisation hoping to smooth office politics. The Language Institute of Khmer (LINK) on Street 200 is tackling such issues head on by offering a course that considers cultural differences by acting out a day at the office of a company that employs expatriates and Cambodian staff.

At the end of each scene shown during the session, two presenters look at the reasons why problems have arisen and where there seems to be conflicting opinions between the two cultures. Themes include punctuality,  anger, relationships with money and problem solving, and the course is hoped to be both fun and informative.

Cambodia Custom Made Incentives (CCI) is also offering team sessions and games, including a concept called Phnom Penh Unplugged that sees groups of colleagues armed with a camera and a map navigate the capital. CCI hopes to build skills such as communication, negotiation, motivation and appreciation.

“Our intention is that team building becomes part of daily corporate culture rather than a once a year event,” says CCI’s Tony Geeraerts.

“I think that the aim is that when people see each other the Monday or Tuesday after, there’s a better communication.”

So perhaps it’s time to take a step back, look at your colleagues and consider together how to make your workplace a happier one. As Smith says: “If you don’t take time to reflect, you don’t grow.”

For more information on the courses offered, visit rippleeffectcambodia.com, naturalkhmer.com and cc-incentives.com