by Kevin Eikenberry

It seems like a pretty simple question – how do you define your team

Most leaders would immediately describe or list their direct reports. Most teammates would list their immediate co-workers.  Then ask people to think about their working relationships and they will think about that same list of people – the people on “their team.”  That is understandable and fine…to a point.

During the period of the pandemic, much has been made about the challenges in maintaining or building working relationships.  In our experience, consultation and coaching we have seen three basic outcomes on the status of working relationships over the past few year.

  • Relationships maintained.  Due to the actions of the leaders and/or team members, relationships have been maintained.  Individuals have intentionally worked to remain connected, and leaders have supported those efforts and led by example in maintaining relationships themselves.
  • Relationships atrophied. Whatever the reasons, whether the stress and strain of the pandemic itself, the drive and focus on business results, or just a lack of incidental hallway conversation, relationships have suffered significantly.
  • Relationships ignored. The longer people have worked from home the more they have seen their work as an individual activity, and they have been literally and emotionally cut off from their co-workers.  While individuals have succumbed to this gradual demise, in organizations and on teams where this has happened, leaders have taken no real action to overcome this problem.

What’s Missing?

If your team falls into that third category, it is easy to see what is missing, and we urge you to act today to reverse that trend. Thankfully, this is the smallest group we have seen.  But there are relationship challenges – or perhaps better defined and opportunities – even for teams whose relationships have remained strong.  Which takes me back to my initial question:

How do you define your team?

As we define our team in the most traditional sense, we are most likely to focus on those relationships. But most of us have a bigger circle – perhaps you could call it your extended team. Your extended team could include:

  • Suppliers
  • Customers
  • Related internal teams – people you had work off to, or receive work from
  • Internal service groups – like IT, HR, and more

In our experience, even the teams who have maintained strong working relationships on their immediate team have found these extended team relationships suffer.  And when they suffer, trust is reduced, conflict is increased, miscommunication is more likely to occur, productivity is reduced and more.

What’s Next?

If your organization is moving to a new hybrid/flexible model, it is important to prioritize these extended team members upon reentry to reengage with, reconnect with, and repair those relationships. Waiting for them to start might be a long wait – but all will benefit from your proactive efforts.

If you aren’t coming back and remaining more remote (or if you personally will remain largely remote) the advice is the same – take steps to reengage with and reconnect with those people. It will be worth the effort and will help you regain some of what you lost (whether you could put your finger on it or not) over the last year.

It is time to draw a larger circle when defining your team  – in terms of determining who you need to build and maintain relationships with.

How we define our team is just one of the many important changes we’re seeing because of remote work. Stay on top of all the latest developments by subscribing to our Remote Work Newsletter

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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has spent over 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.

Twice he has been named by as one of the Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. The American Management Association named him a “Leaders to Watch” and he has been twice named as one of the World's Top 30 Leadership Professionals by Global Gurus. Top Sales World has named him a Top Sales & Marketing Influencer several times, and his blog has been named on many “best of” lists. LeadersHum has named him one of the 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023.

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