by Guy Harris

In 20 years of working to help leaders grow their skills, I have yet to meet a leader who did not understand the need to be clear about their expectations with their team. I am not saying that I have never met a leader who had challenges in this area. I am saying that all of the leaders I have worked with were at least aware of the need to set clear expectations.

In nearly every case, their understanding of setting expectations was about task accomplishment and results. Rarely have I met leaders who consciously and clearly set expectations for relationship building. 

Relationships Matter

Poor workplace relationships almost always lead to poorly or incompletely resolved conflicts. One study indicates that up to two-thirds of all workplace performance issues can be traced to an unresolved workplace conflict. Team relationships are more than a feel-good desire. They are directly related to business results. Good working relationships are as important to team effectiveness and results as good tools, good processes, and clearly defined results goals.

When everyone is working on the same schedule and in the same basic environment – in the same or similar physical location – you might not need to set relationship building expectations. You can rely on organic and incidental interactions between team members to generate the type of working relationships needed to build a good team. People who see each other on a regular basis can figure out a way to work together even if they are not “best buds” outside of work.

Remote Work Changes the Dynamic

When people work in a fully remote or hybrid work environment, accidental and incidental interaction will not happen, and relationships will not develop accidentally or incidentally. In a remote or hybrid work team, relationships will only develop intentionally and on purpose. You can make a valid argument that good relationships usually require some level of intentionality, and, in a remote or hybrid work environment, this need is amplified even further. 

The need for heightened intentionality around building team relationships implies that leaders need to increase both their awareness of and focus on relationship building as a critical element for team success. One way that leaders can bring focus to the need for team relationship building is for team leaders to define behavioral expectations for each team member that facilitate relationship development with other team members – specific behaviors expected of every team member in order to make it possible to build a productive relationship.

What Leaders Can Do

While you cannot set relationship quality expectations for your team – you cannot demand or expect that everyone will like every other member of the team, you can set expectations for behaviors that are likely to improve relationships between team members. Exactly what behaviors to define will depend on your team history and environment, and here are a few ideas to get you started. You can set expectations for:

  • Frequency of team member interactions
  • Use of webcams for video meetings
  • Use of instant messaging channels and status notifications
  • Creating special instant messaging channels dedicated to “just for fun” interactions

For example, in the Kevin Eikenberry Group, we have an expectation that new team members will schedule a “get to know you” call (preferably on video) with every existing team member in their first two weeks on the team, and every existing team member is expected to make scheduling these calls a priority. 

As you move forward with hybrid work teams, remember that relationships have a strong impact on team results. To improve the odds of great results, be as mindful and intentional about relationship building behaviors as you are about task accomplishment behaviors.

Check out this course from The Remote Leadership Institute if you would like to improve your remote relationship building skills.

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