Team Building 101: Quality Relationships

Just as vital as clear goals are for teams to perform, are quality relationships between team members. People working together well need to respect one another, trust each other and feel seen by their colleagues. Recent studies have shown that the most effective teams exhibit the following behaviors:

1.     Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.

2.     Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.

3.     Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.

4.     Members carry on back channel or side conversations within the team.

5.     Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

What enables these traits to exist is clear operating agreements, evidence of trust, commitment to the shared work and meaningful recognition. If you have clear goals, then the individuals know what they are working together to achieve. If one person is perceived as “not carrying their weight,” or “having another agenda,” teams can devolve quickly into factions. That is why a demonstrated and trusted commitment to the work by the individuals on a team is vital to a group becoming a high performing team.


Operating Agreements

“Operating Agreements” are the agreed upon and commonly understood behaviors that define how the group is going to be together. These “Operating Agreements” include how decisions will be made, how the team will communicate with one another/handle disagreement, hold each other accountable and so on. A further explanation of these areas of agreement (and the processes to implement them) can be found in last week's blog. “Operating Agreements” can also address specific behaviors. Below are the ones I typically use when I am leading a retreat/planning session/training:

      Only check phones if you must, and keep them on vibrate or silent.

      Maintain Confidentiality - what is said in the room stays in the room.

      Suspend judgment - listen to understand & ask questions to clarify.

      Be aware of your talk to listen ratio.

With clear operating agreements, individuals know how to relate to each other and that helps them act as a team. Essentially, operating agreements help groups have norms through which they can collaborate effectively. Clear and mutually agreed upon “Operating Agreements” are one easy way to get groups starting to develop quality relationships, but much more is needed to create meaningful relationships.

The need to acknowledge members of the team is a major contributing factor to developing quality relationships.


Meaningful Recognition

As I discuss in “The Gratitude Challenge," the human need for recognition is one of our basic needs. When your colleague/boss/staff does something good, positive reinforcement will not only encourage future positive performance, it will also help build relationships. Meaningful recognition is a pillar of high functioning teams.  But meaningful recognition is much more than that; it is a basic human need, and one that often is neglected in our culture. For more information on how to begin practicing meaningful recognition, click here, here and/or here.


Evidence of Trust

Once you have tended to the group’s need for operating agreements, meaningful recognition, and there is a shared commitment to the shared work. ,now comes the hardest part of building quality relationships - trust. Trust is not something that can be fabricated, implemented or installed. It needs to be developed naturally and organically. Evidence of trust is arguably the most important factor in developing quality relationships. Here are four trust factors that must be present for high performing teams.

      Trust One Another’s Sincerity: the assessment that you are honest, that you say what you mean and mean what you say; you can be believed and taken seriously. It also means when you express an opinion it is valid, useful, and is backed up by sound thinking and evidence. Finally, it means that your actions aligns with your words.

      Trust One Another’s Reliability: the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.

      Trust One Another’s Competence: the assessment that you have the ability to do what you are doing or propose to do. In the workplace, this usually means the other person believes you have the requisite capacity, skill, knowledge, and resources, to do a particular task or job.

      Trust One Another To Care: the assessment that you have the other person’s interests in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take actions. Of the four factors of trustworthiness, care is in some ways the most important for building lasting trust.

These four arenas encapsulate what trust on a team means. Think about teams you have been on that fell short of the expectations. Did these four factors of trust exist? Think about the best relationships you have had. Did these aspects of trust exist?

I have been on teams where I trusted my colleagues’ care, sincerity and reliability, but not their competence. What resulted were increasingly tense relationships and an inability for our team to achieve our collective potential. To build trust, a group needs time to see evidence of the four areas of trust. This means all the individuals of the group must be sincere, reliable, competent and caring. This is why we often see all-stars on below par teams. The all-stars (think Kobe Bryant) are incredibly talented, yet their teams do not have a robust foundation of trust (sincerity, reliability, competence and care) with one another and thus are unable to close the gap between the “team” and the “work.”

Groups are everywhere in organizational life - committee’s, sub-committees, departments, units, geographies, etc. All these groups are tasked with accomplishing something, yet too often strange dynamics begin to arise within the group. In order to do effective work, groups need to work as a team.

No one comes to work planning to be difficult, we all show up wanting to do our best. When working with your group/team, remember to take time to intentionally develop your team with these concepts in mind. These last four blogs exploring teamwork will support you in helping your people bring their best selves to your shared work, and support your organization in accomplishing the important work at hand.


”A unique relationship develops among team members who enter into dialogue regularly. They develop a deep trust that cannot help but carry over to discussions. They develop a richer understanding of the uniqueness of each person’s point of view” – Peter Senge, Founder of the Society for Organizational Learning