7 Ways To Build Great Relationships With Your Team

The challenges facing new leaders in a business situation are many and varied. It’s a demanding time, after all, for an individual both professionally and personally, when much learning takes place. One of the keys to becoming as effective as possible, as quickly as possible, is in getting to know your team well – building those relationships.

Your success as a leader will be judged by your team’s results – so those results can often be seen as a reflection of your relationships with the people delivering them.

Here then are seven ways to build rapport with your team, and ensure that great relationships are the foundation upon which you build outstanding performance:

1. Build a Culture of Listening:

There is a lot written about being an active listener, and it’s one of the pillars of building rapport with individuals. This includes giving the person in front of you your full attention, minimizing distractions, reflecting back emotions, and checking your understanding by asking questions.

But there’s another way you’ll build great relationships with your team through listening, and that is to run meetings in a way that ensures everyone has a voice and feels listened to. In Time To Think, author Nancy Kline talks about creating a “Thinking Environment” in organizations, based on allowing people the space and time to think, and access their own ideas, before offering yours. Allowing everyone an uninterrupted turn to speak at the very least, will allow people in your team to feel listened to. Kline argues that running a meeting based around these principles ‘…produces better ideas in less time, provides the participants with the courage to act and leaves the group feeling good about itself.’

2. Learn to Recognize Emotion in Others:

Developing “Emotional Intelligence,” the concept made famous by Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman in his ground-breaking book, is another crucial component of leadership. One aspect of this involves being able to recognize and name emotions, both in yourself and in other people. Psychologist Paul Ekman, an expert in the field of facial expressions, says that the ability to ‘…see and respond to others often unspoken feelings is central to compassionate connection.’  He argues that our faces are the best places in which to read our emotions –  a window to how we’re really feeling. Learning to recognize those micro-expressions of feeling allows us to connect more fully with others; in his research, he found that people who could do this successfully ‘…were better liked by others.’  Respectfully recognizing another’s emotional state will allow a leader to demonstrate empathy, and alter the way s/he communicates in order to be heard.

3. Use Praise:

Praise can be a great motivator when it is authentic, since it fosters positive emotions and can boost performance. In 2004, The Gallup Organization surveyed over four million people globally, and concluded that employees who received regular praise and recognition increased productivity, engaged more with colleagues, and were less likely to leave an organization.

The key word here, though, is “authentic.” So, Carol Dweck, in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, advises that any feedback should be specific and constructive. Leaders should be able to clearly identify what a team member does that is effective — and what it adds to the overall performance of the group. As a leader, sharing this knowledge will boost the positive emotions of team members, so it is helpful to share insights with other employees in the group (this helps the whole team to understand each other’s strengths), as well as with people in the company outside of your department. This will increase the team’s visibility and reputation, and may well provide opportunities for individuals to become involved in projects across the wider organization. Growing your team members and facilitating their own career success is a fabulous rapport-building skill, and reflects extremely well on you, since it shows that you have the ability to inspire and strengthen other’s job performance.  This in turn can be seen as one of the key components of good leaders.

4. Be a Leader:

Teams want leading, not another ‘buddy’ who indulges in office gossip. A leader’s role isn’t to be everyone’s best friend, but to behave in a leaderly fashion that inspires trust and confidence. A leader provides a vision and objectivity, standing outside the melting-pot of the day-to-day frustrations and minutiae. Clarity and a different perspective can be offered by someone who sees things differently and has a wider, deeper view of what’s happening within the team. So in order to develop this, a leader needs to understand their own leadership style, appreciate the often intangible qualities inherent in the role, and master the complex demands of serving as well as leading others. Tips: Be someone your team can trust and rely on to demonstrate fairness, empathy, compassion and  strong boundaries. This will transform your team into a safe working environment for all concerned.

5. Set High Expectations:

This is certainly important in terms of outcomes, but also in terms of behavior and culture. One way to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them, is simply to tell them. Don’t be afraid of articulating your expectations – and ensure you demonstrate these daily. Or better still, set the tone of the team through an agreed approach to adopt the highest standards of ‘being.’  Setting expectations will also allow roles to be clarified, success to be visualized, and individuals to be empowered to make the most of their talents – i.e., adopting a ‘yes, you can’ attitude towards projects can lift performance. This also demonstrates your belief in your team. Once you have understood your team’s individual strengths, then setting challenging goals can help everyone develop and grow.

6. Ask Questions:

This way of communicating has several benefits. It signals interest in your team, both personally and professionally. Adopting a questioning, coaching style as a leader will also allow others to be more solutions-focused, which in turn empowers individuals.   Questions can encourage a culture of exploration and innovation amongst team members, especially if you model being someone who digs deeper, rather than just accepting the status quo. A team culture that asks questions may also be more ready to ‘try’, and therefore run the risk of failing a little more often. A leader who inspires others to take risks and be comfortable with ‘failure’, while at the same time supporting them, will inspire tremendous loyalty. A leader I once worked for told everyone on our team at his first team meeting, that he would support anything we did – his only request was that we were honest about what we had tried. Why did this work well? The clear message was that taking risks was a good thing, which meant as a team we were often innovative.

7. Develop Shared Values.

Values are the often unspoken rules by which we act; they govern our behaviour. Richard Barrett, founder of the Values Centre, and an expert in values-driven organizations, argues that ‘When a group of people espouse a set of agreed values, and understand which behaviors support those values, then…all rules reduce to one – live the values.’  Devoting some time as a new leader to establishing a team’s values not only builds great relationships between you and the team, but everyone else as well. It’s a highly effective way to cement a team when the individuals agree upon the values, providing a common bond between all members. Understanding your own values can be a good way to start; this free self-assessment at the Values Centre is a useful place to begin.

Building great relationships with your team is crucial if you want to get good results fast. So taking time at the outset to create a trusting and humane bond, that nevertheless expects and values good performance, helps you immeasurably along the way. These seven ways to foster rapport and communication with your team will build a solid foundation for that.

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Susan Ritchie

Susan Ritchie is a leadership coach who specialises in working with new and aspiring female leaders, helping them develop their leadership presence, so they can lead with confidence, create the right impact and excel in their role. She’s the author of Strategies for Being Brilliant: 21 Ways to be Happy, Confident and Successful.
She can be found at www.susanritchie.co.uk where you can download 5 Steps To Developing Your Leadership Presence – and why not come and say hello on twitter @susanjritchie.

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