Managing relationships in teams is critical to high levels of effectiveness, results and employee satisfaction. In my last article I wrote about the misnomer of personality conflicts and how what we call personality conflicts are actually relationship conflicts. How we interact, communicate and work with others is the foundation to how we experience life.
There are 14 core relationship principles described by scholars Finkel, Simpson, and Eastwick in 2017. The factors are distinct from one another, though interrelated, in how they influence relationships. I have applied these sound relationship principles to teams.
- Uniqueness: Relationship outcomes depend not only on the qualities of different people but also the unique patterns that emerge when they interact. Positive or negative feelings are generated by the interpretation of difference and ability to integrate those differences into team output.
- Integration: Through interdependent interaction, team members will start to blend together. Self-regulation can get replaced by mutual regulation and a sense of shared identity. Research has shown that when people get closer to each other they tend to think of each other in more positive terms and will help to further one another goals.
- Trajectory: The trajectory of teams relationships over time is affected by team members continuous perceptions of interactions and experiences over time. Relationships grow and develop in stages. Much like the stages of group development; forming, storming, norming and performing.
- Evaluation: People on teams typically evaluate their relationships based on commitment, trust, caring, contribution, reciprocity, safety, and satisfaction. If evaluations are only private, no one gets the feedback to help improve team relationships.
- Responsiveness: Responsive behaviors are important to teamwork. The ways teammates are responsive to each other can be seen in different light. One may feel others responses are too quick or too late, lack depth or sincerity. Higher levels of support promote higher levels of well-being.
- Resolution: How well teammates communicate about relationship events affects long-term quality of the relationships. Negative events have a stronger impact than positive events. A teams ability to share openly, listen to each others experience, and respond with empathy is critical. Forgiveness is key!
- Maintenance: Positive team relationships are maintained by thinking and behaving in ways that show a willingness to put self-interests aside for the good of the team. Team relationships are a series of deposits and withdrawals over time. Teams must maintain a positive relationship account. Withdrawals will occur in the life of a team and so intentional positive deposits on a daily basis are a must. A good start is just with manners and social kindness and recognition of each others value.
- Predisposition: People bring basic personality and temperament qualities with them into teams. Some of these will be seen as strengths for the team and some will be seen as liabilities. The more neurotic the team members predisposition, the more difficult and challenging the relationships will be. Emotional intelligence is important as well as high levels of trust that allow for individual growth within a team setting.
- Instrumentality: Teammates bring their own goals and needs into the team relationships. The dynamics of the team can positively or negatively affect the degree to which each team member is able to meet these goals and needs. The teams ability to discuss, understand, and integrate these goals and needs is critical to continued commitment toward the teams results. In high performing teams members goals and needs are understood and the team finds ways to support and assist in meeting these.
- Standards: Team members bring relationship standards to the team. Shared values, expectations, and desired outputs need to be clearly understood and realistically managed. Standards can be too high or too low depending on the team member and perceptions of each team member. High trust teams manage this by coming to understand each others standards and then being willing to flex these standards into a common understanding and agreement. College student team projects often run into this dilemma when talking about expected grade. Where the single unemployed student expects nothing but A’s and the single mother of two who works and goes to school is ok with a B grade due to all of her life reponsiblities.
- Diagnosticity: Team members tend to assess themselves and others, and the environment they are in. People naturally assess how their team relationships are going and what is going right and what is going wrong. When under stress teammates tend to have a higher propensity to think about their relationships and identify problems. When one team member sees something as a positive and another sees it as a negative, relationship “strain” occurs. Taking risks during times of uncertainty and working through them successfully can actually build trust and commitment.
- Alternatives: FOBO (fear of better options) occurs when team members are disgruntled with their current environment and so rather than focusing on working through issues and developing the team, they instead are focused on wishing they had a better option/team. Teams can avoid this by working on relationships in an environment of psychological safety where openness is not just valued but practiced and supported. If you have invested yourself in a team there is a tendency to want to invest in its continued improvement.
- Stress: High demands on a team can exceed the teams resources for coping. Stressful situations test team relationships. Team members are more likely to be defensive and retaliate when their buttons are pushed. Breakdown in communication occurs as team members try to distance themselves from each other. Recognition of the stresses and team adoption of effective stress management skills are important to surviving stressful times.
- Culture: A team culture (values, beliefs, behavioral norms, traditions) exists whether intentionally created or not. If not intentionally created a default culture will develop and many times it is not optimal for achieving results. Teams need to align their culture to a shared set of values that are aligned with the organizations values. Identify your teams culture and agree on elements that help move your team forward effectively.
How to Build Good Work Relationships
1. Develop Your People Skills. Good relationships start with good people skills. For instance, how well you collaborate, communicate and deal with conflict.
2. Identify Your Relationship Needs. Look at your own relationship needs. Do you know what you need from others? And do you know what they need from you?Understanding these needs can be instrumental in building better relationships.
3. Schedule Time to Build Relationships. Devote a portion of your day toward relationship building, even if it’s just 20 minutes. These little interactions help build the foundation of a good relationship, especially if they’re face-to-face.
4. Build your Your EI. Spend time developing your emotional intelligence(EI). Among other things, this is your ability to recognize your own emotions, and clearly understand what they’re telling you. High EI also helps you to understand the emotions and needs of others.
5. Appreciate Others. Show your appreciation whenever someone helps you. Everyone, from your boss to the office cleaner, wants to feel that their work is appreciated. Genuinely compliment the people around you. This will open the door to great work relationships.
6. Be Positive. Focus on being more positive. Positivity is attractive and contagious, and it will help strengthen your relationships with your teammates. No one wants to be around someone who’s negative all the time.
7. Manage Your Boundaries. Make sure that you set and manage boundaries appropriately – all of us want to have friends at work, but, occasionally, a friendship can start to impact our jobs, especially when a friend or colleague begins to monopolize our time.
8. Avoid Gossiping. Don’t gossip – Gossip is a major relationship killer at work. If you’re experiencing conflict with someone in your group, talk to them directly about the problem. Gossiping about the situation with other colleagues will only make the relationship more stressed and will cause mistrust and animosity between you.
9. Listen Actively. Practice active listening when you talk to your teammates. People respond to those who truly listen to what they have to say. Don’t try and be right. Focus on listening for understanding and you’ll quickly become known as someone who can be trusted.