The Importance of Strong Working Relationships in Teams

Traditional views of teams often see them as cohesive units, even when they’re assembled for specific projects. Team members are viewed as working towards common goals and shared success. However, looking at teams from a different angle reveals that they consist of individuals with their own agendas, aspirations, and diverse perspectives. When these personal motivations combine with business pressure to succeed, it’s no wonder interpersonal tensions can arise and relationships can break down. And that’s a big problem. In this post, we are going to explore another key factor in the success of high-performing teams: the critical importance of relationships.

Reframing Traditional Views of Teams

Recently, I suggested thinking of teams not as fixed entities where individuals are either in or out, but as dynamic and boundaryless concepts. This shift in perspective, inspired by this article by Paul Lawrence, requires us to reconsider how teams operate and deliver business impacts. One important aspect is effective teamwork depends on strong relationships among team members. This is a crucial determinant of team success, regardless of how we define a team.

The focus on relationships and shared meaning-making becomes central to high-performing teams. Even when two team members are working together, they represent “the team” at that moment and should act in a way that reflects the broader shared values of the entire team. This sense of collective responsibility and shared identity is not only powerful but also essential for maintaining consistent messaging within and outside the team, especially for leaders.

Understanding the Complexity of Team Relationships

Patrick Ballin, Exigence’s Team Coaching Lead, often illustrates the complexity of team relationships using a simple formula: N = n × (n-1), where N is the possible number of relationships within the team and n is the number of team members. Therefore, in a team of 10 people, there are 90 relationships that contribute to the team dynamics. With each new member, the number of relationships grows significantly, highlighting the importance of building connections among all team members for effective collaboration.

Drawing from Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited, we see a distinction between the work of the team and the work on the team. While not every relationship needs to be equally strong in terms of team tasks, there is real benefit in those relationships being equally strong in terms of the team striving to move towards high performance. In the work we do with senior teams, it is not exaggerating to say that strengthening relationships across the team correlates with enhanced team success.

Why Relationships Deteriorate

Teams that are inefficient are often performing at a low level in part due weak relationships between team members. In today’s era of dispersed teams, weaker relationships can be the result of distance – figurative and geographic – caused by not sharing “space” or experiences on a daily basis. It is not an insuperable challenge but to build and maintain great team relationships, over Zoom or MS Teams, takes conscious and thoughtful effort on behalf of all members of the team.  

Beyond the impacts of location, team relationships can be negatively affected by factors such as, ego-driven conflicts arising from real or perceived differences of opinions and personal agendas. Whatever the cause, teams simply do not perform as well as they might, if the relationships across the team are strong and regularly reinforced. Without active attention brought to the ongoing strengthening of relationships, they atrophy to a point of becoming unhelpful to the high performance aspirations of the team.

Strategies for Developing Strong Team Relationships

Effective strategies for fostering robust team relationships include:

Adopting transformational leadership style: In the work we do with senior teams, there is a nominal leader, that’s the one with the title, big bucks and the pressure of enormous accountabilities. But, at this level, all members of the team are usually senior leaders in their own right. And that is important because to develop high quality impactful relationships, all leaders will need to adopt a transformational leadership approach.

Role modelling: The nominal leader needs to make an effort to develop strong working relationship with all members of the team and to do so regularly and overtly. Actively and openly building bonds, sets a great role model for the rest of the team.

Shared Activities:Traditional practices like team meals or social outings remain significant symbols of camaraderie, complemented by modern relationship mapping exercises and facilitated conversations.

Team coaching: dedicating time to develop team relationships in service of driving the performance of the team forward, by engaging in some team coaching, achieves two key outcomes: progressing the work of the team, whilst also ensuring quality time is spent on the work on the team

Reiterating the Significance of Relationships in Team Success

In summary, relationships are crucial to a team’s effective functioning, influencing its cohesiveness, productivity, and overall success. By prioritising relationship-building efforts, leaders and team members can cultivate shared values and elevate team performance to new heights.

We enable your organisation to achieve individual and collective transformation goals quickly and confidently, whether you require support for senior leaders, executive teams, or large cohorts of mission critical managers.

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