For over 30 years, I’ve managed professional relationships. There is one foundational element that I’ve noticed remains unchanged: Humans need humans. We’re social beings, and relationships with others can help us navigate the challenges and celebrate the victories of personal and business life. According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, best known for his hierarchy of needs, relationships with others fulfill our desire to belong and our esteem needs.
Gallup research shows that only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and lists “manager or management” as one of the five most common reasons employees leave their jobs. I believe that this stems from poor manager-employee interactions and employees’ feelings of lack of belonging.
Case in point: Samantha is a new manager in charge of running a corporate branch office. She has consistently performed well in her previous positions and quickly rose through the ranks to her current position. She prides herself on the separation of the human component and work. In her previous positions, she was measured on individual performance; relationships with others were not a requirement or need for her personal success. She does not participate in lunch or after-hour office gatherings. She openly states her goal at the office is to do a job, earn a living and design her career path; she is not there to make friends.
The side effects of such an attitude may not be glaringly obvious. Samantha scores high on corporate compliance. Directives are followed precisely, and she is an expert in process execution. However, her performance as a team leader has been underwhelming and landed the team at the bottom of the district. The line of demarcation and the emotional disconnect between her and the team is directly impacting her success. Team members feel the emotional deficit in the relationship and have adopted an attitude of doing what is required of the job and nothing more.
To help Samantha change her course, we unpacked this question: What steps can be taken to improve individual performance and team engagement to drive success? Here’s the advice I gave her. I believe any leader can use these tips to bond with their team members.
1. Consciously build bonds. Rather than approaching relationships with your team members with only quantitative data, build bonds from a qualitative stance as well. While the numbers show the outcome, they can serve as a small part of the improvement equation. Genuinely listen to your team members’ ideas, and explore the feasibility of using them for the good of the team. Take an interest in their career paths; the goal of advancement may be tied directly to motivation to improve engagement and performance.
2. Rather than preparing what to say next, listen attentively as your team members speak. Often, our mind races to articulate what we will say in response, thereby causing us to miss important details. Listening intently shows respect for the speaker and can reveal opportunities to coach for better outcomes.
3. Seek value in every relationship. Different personalities, communication styles and thought processes can make it more difficult to effectively hear what’s being said. Strive to find common ground, and commit to exploring ways to build from the commonalities.
4. Speak and respond in ways that encourage others to listen. Constructive feedback rather than criticism can work well to move discussions along. Structure feedback to inspire further exploration into the issue at hand. Ask “what if” questions to delve into the details.
5. Remember that emotions play a part in every discussion. An emotionally aware leader can recognize issues below the surface that have not yet been verbally communicated. For example, a usually outgoing employee who suddenly becomes quiet can be a signal. In such a case, inquire by approaching the subject delicately with empathy and with intentional words, such as “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to be yourself — is there something I can help you with?” Without prying, and depending on how the conversation goes, offer available resources.
Employing these five tips can provide the foundation from which teams can develop cohesiveness and navigate the ups and downs of business cycles and other conundrums along the way.