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Are team relationships really that important to teamwork?

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.  

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Mike Rogers

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