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Are team relationships really that important to teamwork?

{ 8 comments… add one }

Teamwork2 Relationships are the foundation of teamwork. Teams fail to execute when relationships are poor. But yet leaders often neglect and sometimes even completely ignore this foundational component of teams. There are many reasons for poor relationships, but my opinion is that lack of understanding each other is the number one contributor.

If I don’t understand you, I won’t fully understand your motives. My trust is initially built on what I have seen or observed about you, not on what I understand about you. Therefore if what I have observed about you is in my mind negative, then your intentions will always be questioned.

I had a final job interview many years ago in which this was evident. As is the case with many final job interviews this one was with the team that I would be working with. I believed my interview was going great, but one particular person’s body language told me otherwise. She just blankly stared at me, kind of “freaky” like. When I was being funny, she didn’t laugh. When I was being engaging and looking for agreement, she didn’t nod her head. She just stared at me. When it was her turn to ask a question, I immediately believed she was asking the question to be malicious and that she wasn’t really that serious. I got the job and later discovered that this person showed no emotion towards any interaction, personally or in meetings. But I also found out that she was one of the kindest and sweetest people you would ever know. Once I understood her, my judgment of her motives changed. Being on the same team, this would be critical because of the nature of the projects we would work on together.

When team members don’t trust one another, issues that need to be resolved in meetings become personal, not task oriented. In fact, some team members may not even fully participate due to the fear of conflict. As a result issues are never resolved effectively or efficiently. If there is one thing I tell teams over and over again when I consult, it is that they must spend time together. There are many other things team’s can do to develop relationships, but spending time together is one of the easiest. Go to lunch together, spend a half a day or full day with teambuilding, have regular effective meetings together face to face or plan department activities together. There are many ways teams can spend time together, but the most important thing is that they do.

Have you ever seen teams fail due to poor relationships? Please tell us about it in the comments section below.

Tomorrow I will talk about the social psychology term “Fundamental Attribution Error” and how it erodes team trust. Sounds academic, but it’s not. I think you will find it quite interesting. Stay tuned.  

Check out one of our most commented on Posts ever. Click on it below.
Beware Managers and Employers – You better treat your employee’s right or else…

Mike Rogers

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Leave a Comment

  • Anna DeBattiste November 16, 2009, 9:28 pm

    Good one Mike, I enjoyed it!

  • Paul Jones November 16, 2009, 9:53 pm

    I’ll answer your question this way. The greatest basketball player of all time is Michael Jordan. The second greatest was probably Wilt Chamberlain.
    But combined they have fewer NBA championship rings than Bill Russell, who retired with 11.
    The difference, in my view, is that Bill Russell, who was a superstar in his own right, knew that what got you great stats wasn’t necessarily what got you championship rings.
    Russell knew that basketball was a team sport and that only a team effort brought championships. So he nurtured his team relationships accordingly.
    Warm regards,

  • Tim Ellenberger November 16, 2009, 9:54 pm

    Yes, A great article that addresses a topic often overlooked by those of us that are more dominant and task oriented in our approaches to work and life.
    I have also found that team relationships built upon professional respect create the empowering forces of collaboration and teamwork; making a whole that far exceeds the individual. It requires the establishment and nurturing of trust, demonstrated competence and dependability, and the more difficult to express, measure, and develop attributes of caring and supporting.
    That said, I have seen some organization that try to use social methods of developing teamwork. While that may help people to get over any social challenges of getting to know each other, it doesn’t create the deeper relationships you need, albeit it may be needed on the path to developing a team. It also takes bringing in people that are competent and that seek to improve upon their skills and abilities, open and direct communications amongst the team to express concerns and to identify and remove issues, and an environment where mentoring and supporting each other in learning and growing capabilities is encouraged and embraced.
    I have experienced and do believe that relationships are key to teamwork. When taken in its simplest context, it may be insufficient; but still is a critical aspect that needs to be watched and nutured.

  • Mike Rogers November 16, 2009, 9:55 pm

    Great comments Paul and Tim. Thank you.
    Tim, I would agree that relationships alone would be insufficient, but they certainly are foundational to teamwork. And I agree deeper relationships need to be developed. I believe that portion comes as teams work together, struggle together and overcome together.
    – Mike

  • Julie Pigdon November 17, 2009, 9:41 am

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for your thought provoking article.
    I think that team relationships are like any other relationships – the more you put into them the more you get out of them. Often also a group of people may define themselves as a team but they may not act like one. That is, they don’t have a common purpose, they don’t depend and relay on each other, they don’t work collaboratively. You have to work at being a team, and you have to work even harder to become an effective, productive team.
    Here’s an article for you that may be of interest – .

  • Andrea Murphy November 20, 2009, 6:34 am

    Attention to building relationships with co-workers is even more crucial when you and your co-workers are not at the same location. I worked at a company where my team was divided. There were 3 here in Wisconsin and 5 in Iowa. When you are in different states you never have the opportunity of catching up by the water cooler or in the break room. When in a work situation like mine it is easy to rely on email but the phone is actually more effective because it is more personal and you can get a good handle on what your colleague’s personality is like.

  • Mike Rogers November 23, 2009, 3:23 pm

    Thank you for your comments Julie and Andrea.
    Relationships are often a lot more difficult to establish when the team is remote. I have managed teams that were literally in all four corners of the US. I would make it a point to fly them in twice a year for meetings, strategizing and team building. We would not have been as successful without this. We really had to work at it though.


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