Improve Team Relationships – Talent Management

Relationships are different for each team. Finding ways to foster openness and support will create a framework for your team to meet challenges.

Try this: Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On one side, write down the qualities of a good relationship. On the other, write down the qualities of a bad relationship.

Common responses we see in good relationships include confident, honest, friendly and caring. Common responses in bad relationships often include mean, selfish, inflexible and a poor communicator. Thinking about the elements you’ve used to define both a good and a bad relationship, how would they apply to those you work with?

Our working environments and working relationships have changed dramatically. Some have found remote work to significantly improve their working relationships, while others have found remote or hybrid work to cause isolation and limit their team relationships.

Whether you work in person, remotely, or in a hybrid, defining what makes a good team relationship is valuable to how we interact with others. Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson conducted research on this topic, and it has been replicated many times, leading to over 6,000 respondents to their research question: What makes a good team relationship?

Through their research, LaFasto and Larson identified four overarching observations:

  1. Good relationships are constructive for both people.
  2. Good relationships are productive.
  3. Good relationships are characterized by mutual understanding.
  4. Good relationships are Auto correction.

These observations provide a high-level framework for evaluating working relationships. When evaluating our interactions in working relationships, we tend to rate ourselves much higher than we actually are. To clarify the establishment of effective working relationships, there are three questions to consider.

Q1. What are the most important behaviors in a team relationship?

Every employee will approach team relationships differently because we all have different points of view. Viewpoints are made up of three beliefs:

  1. Assumptions: Beliefs we hold, whether or not we have all the facts.
  2. Perceptions: Beliefs we have based on our life experiences.
  3. Expectations: Beliefs we have about how people should behave.

If we approach our team through the lens of our points of view, we can quickly see how easy it is to get misaligned. It comes naturally and we should all be expected to bring different perspectives to the work. This awareness provides the opportunity to openly discuss the behaviors that we believe should be present within the team.

LaFasto and Larson’s research identified two behaviors that were most important:

  1. Openness – the ability to surface and deal with issues objectively.
  2. Support – bringing out the best thought and attitude in the other person.

Throughout their research, these two behaviors were consistently ranked as the most important. But what else can openness and support do for team relationships?

  • Openness shows that employees feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas.
  • Support demonstrates commitment to other team members.
  • Openness indicates that employees feel empowered to solve problems within the team.
  • Support indicates a level of trust and respect for others on the team.

As leaders, it can be difficult to create an environment where openness and support are the norm. However, being open and supporting your employees as they experience what these behaviors look like on their team allows employees to build trust in their peers and leaders.

Q2. What is the biggest challenge in team relationships?

Although openness and support are key behaviors in team relationships, they can also cause problems within the team.

Opening: What does it mean to be open with the other members of your team? If team members don’t have a common understanding of what to expect, this behavior can quickly escalate for a team. For example, my teammate is leading a presentation that contains typos or incorrect data. If the franchise points out the errors immediately, and I do, then I could harm my relationship with my teammate because my actions could embarrass or hurt my teammate. Even if my intention was good, misunderstanding the opening can create tension.

Support: How does solidarity appear in your team? This is another behavior that needs to be aligned within a team. If my teammate drops something and I pick it up for them, do I support them? Or, what if they received negative feedback and I believe supporting them is telling them to “take the feedback with a grain of salt” knowing that they really need to improve. If a team has struggled with trust and respect, it is common to see high levels of defensiveness between employees. The support must be sincere. If there is a history of insincere actions that have not been addressed, employees are going to be skeptical when a colleague or their boss takes an unfamiliar approach.

The opening and the support are fragile. It is important that we emphasize the value of our team roster. We must also remember that no one is perfect. We are going to have bad days. When we do, call him and be curious how the team can overcome.

Q3. How do you build and maintain a collaborative team relationship?

LaFasto and Larson suggest that we consider the four observations mentioned earlier: good relationships are constructive, productive, embrace mutual understanding, and are constructively self-correcting.

Each of these observations can be turned into questions to assess the current state of team relationships.

  1. Did we have a constructive conversation? How do team members handle conflict? If employees seek to cover up any conflict, it creates an environment where resentment and frustration can emerge. Encouraging an open conversation between two employees or as a team will foster a culture of openness. The main challenge is to keep our constructive conversations professional. If we allow the conversation to become personal, employees will become defensive and may shut down and refrain from engaging with their peers.
  2. Was the conversation productive enough to make a difference? How will you know the conversation was effective? Simply waiting for behavior to change is risky because behavior can be manipulated depending on who is present. Helping employees develop actions to move forward will promote employee ownership of the relationship.
  3. Did we understand and appreciate each other’s points of view? Are your employees willing to set aside their beliefs to listen to what their teammates are saying? Not every employee should be expected to agree with everything other peers say or do. Instead, how can you foster an environment where employees are curious and ready to take action knowing that their peers have different opinions? Leaders should expect other opinions to be heard.
  4. Have we both made a commitment to make improvements? Developing an action plan that includes the problem, steps for improvement, and follow-up solidifies the conversation. It can be easy for employees to say they will make changes, and that’s often where we leave conversations. However, developing an action plan builds support because it demonstrates that the team is taking things seriously. As a leader, one of the most effective ways to encourage these improvements is to follow up with each employee. Show them you appreciate their actions to support your team’s openness and support.

The Takeaway Team: These three questions are a wonderful team building activity. Use a question at your next team meeting. These questions will help establish alignment in the view and expectations of your team members.

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