Great working relationships are true accelerants to working life. They can make the days more enjoyable, work more interesting and deliver faster, better outcomes for the teams and businesses you work with.
Sometimes great working relationships arise by chance through a shared program of work. Sometimes they are deliberately cultivated. But what makes a great working relationship?
In this article, we’d like to help you reflect on your working relationships and explore some ways you as a leader can establish more robust relationships. We offer some of the specific approaches you can take to establish trust and partnership with others who are key to your shared pursuits.
1. Positive Intent and a Shared Orientation
Great relationships rely on a mutual understanding of not only what it is you are set to achieve but why, and how each person’s unique needs can be met as a part of achieving a common goal. Consider connecting around your shared strategic objectives and relationship fundamentals ahead of moving to the tactical detail.
When you’re working with someone new, building a team, or kicking off a new program of work, consider these as effective conversation openers that can enhance working relationships:
“Do we know what we’re working towards?”
“How do we see the outcomes?”
“Are there specific ways of working that we each find important?”
“What standards of communication do we want to establish from the start?”
“How do we want to manage communicating when things go wrong?”
What difference would it make if you engaged with your colleagues about what’s important for them in the program of work/project, and how they perceive the program or project might look?
2. Honest Dialogue to Build Trust
Great working relationships include candid, constructive dialogue – regularly. It’s perfectly normal that things go wrong when working together. It’s how you manage these key moments that really matters. Your response to challenges, issues and concerns can either build or erode a relationship.
If you run into conflict or have a different perspective you need to share, mindfully reflect on the concern that’s present for you and design a conversation to articulate that concern. Clarify your intent to make sure your approach is constructive and then engage the other person to explore a way through.
You may have had an experience where you’ve neglected to have such a conversation and perhaps you’ve experienced how avoiding confronting such issues undermines trust?
What difference would it make for you to be able to clarify and clear concerns as they arose and how might clearing these ‘early’ strengthen your relationships?
3. Recognising Work Done Well
Conversations that express your appreciation as a leader can be missing conversations inside organisational life. These simple acknowledgements can fall by the wayside of busy agendas and mounting workloads.
Recognising work done well and acknowledging the inputs, insights and efforts of those people you work with will create stronger working relationships.
If you find you tend to overlook these conversations for gratitude, recognition and appreciation, consider instituting a new practice of taking time each and every week to recognise the achievements of your team. Why not send them a short communication or pick up the phone to let them know you have noticed their efforts. Watch team morale and confidence grow!
4. Connecting Human to Human
A great working relationship includes connection beyond the tasks you’re asked to do. In today’s time poor workplaces, it can be easy to move straight to task in order to ‘get things done’. It doesn’t really take long to invest a few minutes to connect on a human to human level ahead of ‘talking shop’. Consider including a little bit of personal banter at the start of the meeting as a feel good starting point. After this the business can flow.
How well do you balance your focus on task relative to relationship as a leader? How well do you know the people you work with? Do you understand their interests? Do you know about the important relationships in their lives?
What difference might it make for you and for them if you began cultivating a relationship that included a sense of the other person’s life and interests? How can you begin connecting more deeply from a place of heartfelt interest and care?
5. Celebrating Different Perspectives
Great working relationships rely on your mood as a leader. If you’re more accepting and open to new perspectives, people will share more and tend to speak up. Open yourself to the idea that there are as many different perspectives on how to achieve something together as there are people on the planet. If different = different then your strength as the leader lies in a capacity to harness the differences in a team and the diversity of history, culture and thinking to come up with insights, ideas and solutions based on a pluralistic view.
This can mean stepping away from the need to be right, the need to have things a certain way and allowing other people the opportunity to participate in innovation and decision-making. It also means allowing people a margin for getting things wrong and celebrating the lesson rather than punishing the mistake. Making spaces like these as a leader can only enhance relationships and create space for people to feel safe to contribute their brightest and best ideas.
6. Listening to Understand
One of the fastest ways that you can build a great relationship is to listen to the other person to genuinely understand what it is that they’re trying to communicate.
Be intentional and create a space where you are not distracted as they are speaking. Set aside your expectations and suspend your judgements to stay open to what they are going to share. Ask questions to clarify what it is that they are sharing with you and what is important for them in what they are sharing. Finally, take time to confirm what you have heard by paraphrasing to check that you have understood.
There is no greater gift than having someone truly listen to understand you. Consider the new practices you might need to establish as a leader to create such a space.
What we offer here is just a start. What other ways have you discovered to develop great working relationships? After reading this, what will you do differently to begin to enhance and even restore the important relationships in your workplace and in life?
One thing you can do is learn 4 foundational leaderships skills that every team leader and manager must have to effectively manage performance with our Online Live Leadership Program Accelerator.
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