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The eight elements of effective working relationships in high performing teams

Bernard Desmidt - Leadership Coach and author

The way teams work together and interact has undergone a monumental change over the past two years, forcing all involved to reassess how to effectively interact and maintain relationships during the COVID environment.

Teams who commit to establishing and maintaining effective working relationships create the possibility to operate at more than the sum of their parts and achieve extraordinary results. The better the relationships, the better the results.

High performing teams distinguish themselves on the quality of their working relationships. How team members show up is revealed in their way of being and how they assess and perceive the world.

Based on the modified and expanded model originally presented by Gloria Kelly (a pre-eminent sociologist), there are eight dimensions to an effective working relationship. There are five areas that relate to our relational way of being (how we perceive the world) and three that relate to our relational way of doing (how we interact with the world).

In sharing these definitions, I acknowledge the work and contribution of Alan Sieler, founder of the Newfield Institute.

The five dimensions relevant to our ‘way of being’ as a team

Respect is holding others in acceptance and legitimacy. Acceptance does not mean having to agree with others’ views; it means holding others’ views, perspectives and opinions with dignity and legitimacy despite how similar or different they may be to your own or how strongly you may feel about a particular viewpoint.

At its core, respect is about legitimising others with dignity. The greatest gift one can give to another is to leave them feeling respected by you.

Research by Edelman shows that the level of trust in societal institutions, particularly business, government and media, has declined over the past decade and shows no signs of changing Based on the Trust Equation developed by David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, trust is composed of multiple factors.

First, there’s credibility which refers to the extent to which one perceives the other to have the technical skills, knowledge and expertise as well as how we assess how others look, act, react and talk about their content. Then reliability is the extent to which one is dependable and can be relied upon to consistently do what they say they will do.

Next is Intimacy which is the emotional intimacy shared as opposed to the personal closeness. The preparedness to speak our truth on difficult topics while holding the other with respect, dignity and legitimacy lead to the most trust of all.

Finally, self-orientation refers to the extent to which others see us placing their interests above our own. Trust is quickly lost if people appear to be more interested in themselves than in trying to be of service to others.

As humans, we live ‘in concern’. We are always thinking, listening, speaking and acting on what is important to us. We are continuously addressing what we care most about. We are never not ‘in concern’. To build an effective relationship, we must understand and appreciate what is important to you and to the other party, and how well these are being addressed.

It is a fundamental driver, as a human, to feel recognised, acknowledged, valued and appreciated. However, recognition and appreciation are different. We recognise others for what they’ve done, while we show appreciation for others for who they are and what they mean to us. We appreciate others’ insights and advice, their ‘pats on the back’ and the ‘thank-you’ praise and knowing that we can turn to them in times of need.

Biologically, we are inescapably emotional beings. We are never not ‘in mood’. Everything we say or do is because of the mood we’re in. To build effective working relationships, it is essential to be an observer of one’s moods and to attend to the predominant moods and emotions experienced in the relationship. This means observing how the moods and emotions enhance or detract from the quality of conversations and shift our moods to better serve us in our relationship with others.

The three dimensions relevant to our ‘way of doing’ as a team

Coordination of action
Teams exist to accomplish what individuals working separately cannot. How teams coordinate action is at the heart of organisational work and the associated successes or failures. The ability to coordinate these separate efforts is crucial for producing satisfactory outcomes and realising goals and objectives.

The conversations that do (and don’t) happen and the quality of those conversations is fundamental to the context of effective working relationships. What we say and don’t say, how we say it, how we are listened to, and what happens to team members emotionally when words are spoken, are crucial to efficient and effective team performance.

Where there is alignment between two parties, they are committed to going in the same direction. Alignment includes a commitment to being collaborative and coordinating action.

Teams rise and fall based on the quality of their working relationship. The quality of the team’s working relationships has a profound impact on the quality of their results. When relationships and results are paired, teams flourish.

Bernard Desmidt is a leadership coach and author of Team Better Together

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