The Army has been putting a lot of effort in trying to create a healthy social climate where Soldiers can thrive as individuals and team members and/or leaders within their units. The creation of supportive social connections at both the personal and collective level requires striking that delicate balance between ensuring the work environment is not only professional and safe for the individual, but that personal interactions help create camaraderie, strengthen team bonds, and boost morale within the unit.

Tony Best, subject matter expert and training specialist for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Transition Office encourages strong social connections among Soldiers, Civilians, and Family members. Best, who retired from the Army after 22 years of service, currently works on the front lines of developing, implementing, and evaluating the reception of trainings to determine their effectiveness within the Army ranks and their Civilian counterparts.

He understands the significance and importance of building and maintaining strong social connections at work. As people advance in the ranks and their peer group shrinks, they’ll have to reach out and find people in similar job positions, so forming peer bonds is as important as fostering subordinate development and teamwork, he said.

“No man or woman is an island. You’re not going to make it on your own,” Best said. “Coming up through the Army, I didn’t value social connections as much; but the further you advance through the Army (E4-E5, NCO, leader, etc.), a team dynamic is needed to achieve any objective.”

Having both a professional and personal connection with your peers can be tricky. According to Best, sometimes getting together can be a good thing, however, getting personally acquainted with others can also blur the professional lines if, for example, promotions are looming. Best encourages Soldiers to “Be yourself and be honest. Don’t be someone others expect you to be. Let people know where you stand and know that it’s okay to not always agree. Trust and respect get lost when you’re disingenuous,” Best said.

The biggest challenge in the Army work environment is making the transition from an enlisted environment to a Civilian work environment. Best believes the Army does a good job helping Soldiers and Civilians develop good social connections to help meet the challenge. For instance, the Army Sponsorship Program was developed to help Soldiers and Families making a PCS move. The program assigns a sponsor to help them with their move via an onboarding process that not only helps them get acquainted with their new unit, but also helps connect them with the people they will begin to form new social connections in their new environment. There are also courses for Civilians to help them understand the structure of the Army and what Army life is like.

There’s great opportunity in change and there’s even greater value in having the opportunity to meet and work with different people.

“It’s good that everybody’s different,” Best said. “Not everyone is going to approach and see things the same way. Being different gives us a variety of options and that shouldn’t be forgotten or taken for granted.”

The reward of forming strong, professional, and supportive social connections far outweighs the risks of not having any.