In a previous article, we discussed 7 reasons why connection is important at work. It’s clear, connection isn’t just “fluff” – it improves team performance, reduces stress, increases innovation, and much more. However, if you lead a team, you have a dual challenge on your hands.
First, you’ll want to make sure you strengthen your own workplace relationships – both with your team members and with other colleagues across the organization.
Second, you’ll want to create a working environment that encourages social connections between your team members. Although you can’t force people to get along, you can set them up for success by creating opportunities for relationships to grow.
We’ll look first at what you can do to strengthen your own relationships, then move on to discuss how you can encourage your team to do the same.
Connecting with Others at Work
1. Maximize your Time for Relationship Building by Tailoring Your Approach
There’s a good chance that your workdays are already full to the brim with meetings, tasks, and to-dos. Often, taking the time to build relationships falls to the bottom of your list when you are faced with so much that feels more urgent.
One of the best things you can do to maximize your connection to the people you work with is to tailor your approach to the recipient. Either from your personal knowledge of an individual’s communication style, or based on personality assessments, focus your connection approach on how it will be best received. This will maximize the value received for the amount of time put in. Some may prefer five minutes at the beginning and end of a meeting to catch up. Others may like a call just to ask how they are doing and if they have any news to share. And some might just like a quick Slack message every so often. Once you find how each person prefers to receive connection, it makes future connections much easier and more enjoyable.
2. Communicate Authentically
For the introverts among us, the good news is that you don’t need to be the life and soul of the party to build strong, healthy connections with your colleagues. Instead, focus on communicating authentically, transparently, and from a place of compassion.
If you are naturally social and gregarious, building relationships might come naturally to you. But remember that it takes two people to create that connection – and leave others space to talk too.
On the other hand, if you are quieter and less chatty, you might need to step out of your comfort zone a little to get conversations started. However, your ability to listen to others and make them feel heard will be a bonus.
Either way, the most important thing is to be honest and open in how you communicate at work so that people can start to connect with you on a deeper level.
3. Get Curious
Curiosity is a valuable asset in any manager. It keeps us open-minded and ready to learn. And it is also a fantastic way to spark deeper connections with our colleagues and team members.
When we are genuinely curious to learn more about people and understand their thoughts, opinions, and experiences, it encourages them to open up. We find ourselves listening attentively and asking questions that help people feel heard and valued.
All of this makes the people around us feel more connected with us and helps us build those strong relationships.
4. Be Trustworthy
It’s a great feeling when we get on with the people we work with. When we share a sense of humor, find conversation flows easily, and enjoy one another’s company, work feels more fun.
However, it doesn’t matter how well we get on with people if we end up letting them down when they need us. Professional relationships aren’t built solely on personal compatibility but on a sense of trust and dependency.
If the people you work with know they can trust you to do what you say you will, your relationships with them will become stronger. They also need to know that you will act fairly and be reliable.
Encouraging Stronger Connections Between Team Members
The good news is that one of the best things you can do as a manager to encourage your team to build strong connections is to model this yourself. If others see you being open, approachable, and collaborative, they are more likely to follow suit.
Here are some other ways you can foster strong connections between your team members.
1. Use the Right Tools
Relationships depend on communication. In today’s remote and hybrid workspaces, this can require us to be intentional about the tools we use to keep our teams connected and communicating.
Fortunately, there are also plenty of options to help teams collaborate and build stronger working relationships, from online meeting platforms like Zoom to instant messaging tools like Slack.
The key is to support your team in using these tools effectively and encouraging regular communication.
2. Organize Social Events
Although we should make the most of any opportunity to connect with our colleagues during our usual working days, dedicated time for socializing can be hugely beneficial in fostering stronger relationships between team members.
This can be as simple and quick as gathering for a team coffee break (whether in the office or online), or as involved as getting together for a team away day.
Office parties, after-work drinks, and lunchtime sports tournaments can also be great options for team bonding.
By getting away from your daily work and having time to focus on getting to know one another, your team will have a chance to feel more bonded together. Once you are all back at your desks, you’ll see the benefits of stronger working relationships.
3. Reward Collaboration
If we want to encourage our teams to work closely together, then we need to show that we value this behavior. Too often, we focus on rewarding individual success and achievement, instead of recognizing great collaboration and teamwork.
If you change your approach to reward your team members for working well together, you’ll find they naturally start to prioritize teamwork over individual effort. This focus on collaboration over competition also encourages stronger connections between people.
As well as publicly recognizing group efforts and successes, make collaboration and relationship-building part of your annual appraisal, so employees know that they should prioritize this.
4. Play the Host
When we bring people together in our personal lives, most of us feel a responsibility to ease the conversation along by making introductions, noting shared interests, and encouraging people to join in with discussions.
In other words, we play the host, helping everyone get to know each other and have a good time.
As managers, we can bring this same attitude into our working lives. Often, all it takes is a little awareness. Is there someone on the periphery of a conversation who you could bring into the group? Has everyone in a team meeting been given a chance to contribute and share their thoughts?
When we actively work to bring every member of the team into discussions, everyone benefits from a greater understanding and knowledge of their colleagues. People grow more confident in speaking up and sharing their ideas. And individuals feel seen, heard, and valued for their unique contributions.
With time and consistency, this gentle encouragement helps to bring the group together and gives our employees a base from which they can build their connections with one another further.
As leaders and managers, we have a vital role to play in bringing people together in the workplace. By setting a strong example and prioritizing relationship building, we inspire others to do the same.