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What can we learn from Stan & Ollie about building long-lasting effective working relationships?


How to do a ‘Stan and Ollie’, and build lasting working relationships, even with colleagues who appear to see the world in a completely different way.

I recently went to see ‘Stan and Ollie’ the much-lauded new film which explores the relationship and final years of one of history’s best-loved comedy double acts, Laurel and Hardy.

As an eighties child, I was always excited about turning over to BBC2 (back in the day when there were only three channels to choose from) at 6pm to be entertained by the slapstick shenanigans of these comedy stalwarts.

I was fascinated by their on-screen relationship and comic timing, but what I never realised, until I watched the film, was the fact that they weren’t best friends since childhood who decided to show the world their comic flair. Rather, they were two individual performers were put together by a studio executive to make money.

What makes this fascinating then, is how well they learnt to accommodate each other’s differences, skills, abilities, personalities and moods. They went on to have an enduring friendship, despite some turbulent periods and became legendary entertainers.

What makes for a good and effective working relationship?

It would appear from all the research that the main components of healthy working relationships are trust, communication, teamwork and time. Or if you prefer a snappier version then follow the advice on Unleashingu.com about the

3 C’s.

Commitment, Consistency & Cultivation.

We never know who we are going to be working with, so a commitment from the beginning to being open to different methods and approaches will enable us to accept differences and embrace them as opportunities to broaden our own mind-sets.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, once said that we only have influence over two things in life; what we think and what we do. Everything else is out of our control. So, what are you thinking and how are you thinking? Is it helpful or hindering? And what are you doing to back it up? Are you taking responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions?

Consistency in the workplace aids the process of change and helps re-enforce and strengthen relationships

Being solid in what we do and what we say we are going to do creates an environment of trust. It helps to embed new working practices rather than just giving up after a few tries.

Conflict only occurs when two parties come together, agree to do something but then don’t come back at regular intervals to discuss progress and solve problems.

Conflict only occurs when two parties come together, agree to do something but then don’t come back at regular intervals to discuss progress and solve problems. The longer these gaps in communication linger, the more the imagination of the individuals start to fill in the blanks with thoughts such as: “I knew he wouldn’t do it,” or: “She’s too busy looking after herself,”.

These sorts of thoughts can do some real harm if left to fester.

Commitment and consistency, when absorbed as part of the everyday culture, can then enable an individual or organisation to evolve in a more positive direction.

Commitment and consistency, when absorbed as part of the everyday culture, can then enable an individual or organisation to evolve in a more positive direction.

Relationships, both personal and professional, require cultivation. Remember that banter is verbal tickling, it’s good for us to have new interesting and different conversations and so time, effort, a commitment to listen, be curious, question and care for, all help to nurture those around us and move towards reaching our own potential.

What are the benefits of good working relationships?

There are so many significant benefits for cultivating our working relationships. Below are Laughology’s top 3 

  1. Builds trust. Without trust you are on a slippery slope to ill-feeling and drudgery. Trust creates an environment where everyone can work to their strengths and take risks, knowing that everyone else has their back. Being dependable re-enforces the feeling of consistency and promotes an air of fearlessness, as everyone benefits from the solid foundation of cogency.
  1. Reduces stress. Unhappy working relationships are one of the biggest causes of chronic stress in the workplace. Knowing you are going to work with people whose company you enjoy and who will stretch you, not only reduces stress but promotes wellbeing. Interacting with people you like releases naturally occurring neurotransmitter’s such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These are chemicals that not only make us feel better, they also help us strengthen the bond with those around us. This in turn boosts company morale.
  1. Increases effectiveness and creates an innovative environment. Develop strong, playful and supportive relationships in which you take time to really understand those around you. Get to know their fears anxieties, foibles, aspirations, wants, needs, desires. When you do that, you can begin to work to each other’s strengths, thus supporting and encouraging one another. Innovative ideas are best explored in groups. A group with a diverse set of ideas and problem-solving approaches helps push ideas forward. If we can embrace and celebrate a colleague’s individuality, then out-of-the-box, forward-thinking ideas and problem-solving approaches can more readily emerge. Effectiveness then increases and we start to become more time-rich, which in turn allows us to spend more of this time developing and enriching the relationships which matter most. Staying playful and positive will help this process, especially if things aren’t quite going the way we’d hoped.

Back to Stan and Ollie.

What really stands out for me when I watch them work together, even though they had some difficult times was their:

  • Commitment – They never lost sight of their purpose, which was to entertain.
  • Consistency – They were, and always will be, funny. But behind all that was an incredible work ethic, mutual respect, a recognition of their strengths and weaknesses and an absolute trust in their own and each other’s abilities.
  •  Cultivation – They never stopped working on ideas (Stan Laurel continued to write new material for Laurel and Hardy years after Oliver Hardy died).

Their dedication to an art form, their desire to create, be playful, look out for one another, remain loyal and above all maintain a sense of humour, even when life got tough, is what I believe made them indefatigably the greatest working partnership the movies have ever seen.

 For more information on cultivating working relationships that are more Blue Ridges Mountains of Virginia and less Duck Soup, please take a look at our Positive Communication and Relationship Building workshop.

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