How to build strong teams by developing relationships

Trust me, I get it. We’re busy. We have a long laundry list of all the things we need to get to but can barely manage, not just a list of tasks but even things like seeing our friends and spending time with family. It all gets crowded, never mind the added pressure of building relationships with each individual team member at work!

But, the thing is, NOT building those relationships costs us in the long run. Think about how much easier it is to work with someone you really know.

When you’ve connected with someone outside of work on some level, it’s a smoother process to ask something of them, to give them feedback, and understand how to motivate them and support them.

Great leadership can be made in small conversations and human moments, in the parts of the day that may seem inconsequential.

This time of year, around the holidays, is especially challenging but it’s also especially human. It’s a time where almost everyone is thinking about friends and family, and finding social time. The holiday season is an excellent time to start to connect with your staff.

The name of the game is informal one-on-one meetings. It’s where you can change your environment, switch up the pattern, and connect human-to-human with members on your team.

Here are three ways that you can sneak a little connection into any day.

What you can accomplish over coffee

I, personally, like to have to some structure. If you’re familiar with the “Everything DiSC” profiles we use with our clients — I’m pretty high on the D scale. So, I like to have goals and make sure that I connect with each member of my team for an informal one-on-one coffee at least once a month, on top of our normal work conversations.

Now, if you have a really big team this may not be plausible but set a structure that works for you, put it in your calendar and do your best to connect informally with each member of your staff.

A question I often get is whether or not you should discuss work in this informal meet up.

Sure, you can, but the idea is to understand and connect with something that is not work related. Ask them about their family, their hobbies, and if you’re going to talk about work – try to keep it focused on what they’re trying to achieve or what they’re looking for from the organization.

Keep the conversation focused on them and about them. That not only makes a person feel valued, it fosters loyalty. You’d be surprised at how a few informal coffees can build a relationship.

What you can accomplish over lunch

While coffee is valuable time spent with staff, lunch is even more of an opportunity to connect with and get to know your team. It also feels pretty special when the boss has lunch with you.  

When I worked in government, the Deputy Minister would have a pizza lunch with five staff from all levels of the department, every Friday. When I first heard about it, my immediate thought was that it was “hokey” and artificial.

But, as people around me started getting picked in the draw to go for lunch and they had their chats over pizza with the boss, they came back feeling valued, they felt heard, they had made a connection they hadn’t made before.

It could have easily been as hokey as I expected, but because the Deputy Minister was sincere, focused on her lunch guests, and was interested to hear from them, it wasn’t hokey at all.

How to pay attention to the little things

Building relationships may come easy for you. But, I would venture to guess that even if it does, there are a few practices that you can implement to help your staff feel that much more connected and that much more valued.

A few things you can do to “wow” your staff:

  • Put each of their birthdays in your calendar and be the first to wish them happy birthday or give them a card. And, not the one that’s signed by the whole gang, but one that’s from you, personally.
  • Note how they take their coffee and surprise them by ordering it for them.
  • If they tell you about an upcoming event, make a note to follow up and ask how it went.
  • Make a note of the names of their wife or husband and children so when you ask about them, you can ask by name.

Our Coach’s Questions:

What can you do TODAY to connect with your staff? Which ideas above, or your own, will you start this week?

6 skills every leader needs (3 for the real pros)

We talk a lot, here at Padraig, about skills that good leaders need. We know from working with a lot of fantastic clients what you need in the boardroom and on the frontline to truly be a good leader.

Sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” if you don’t have them and you’re trying to learn them, soft skills can be hard work. But it’s hard work that will pay off. Now in any endeavour, we start our with limited skill and we practise, and watch and learn and try again until we get better and better.

Maybe someday, we become a pro. Leadership is like that too.

Today we’re giving you a taste of some of the skills leaders need. The first three apply to all of us whether we’re just starting out, whether we’re mentoring someone else as they start out, or whether we’re experienced and we need to stay on top of them ourselves. Then we dive into the next three to challenge you if you think you’re ready to step into the big leagues and really inspire people.

Let’s start by talking about the first three skills, the ones we all need to use and if you’re a senior leader, they’re the ones you need to mentor others to use.

New leaders are often in a position where they are moving from working with their peers to managing them. This alone is a challenging transition never mind learning the required skills, tasks, and responsibilities of their new role.

What, then, can you do to set new leaders up for success (or yourself if you’re the new leader)?

Three skills that can help ease the transition and set you or your new leaders up for success are:

Delegate

This can be tough at first. New leaders are typically so keen to do a great job that they don’t like to put the fate of their performance in the hands of others. But, it’s counterintuitive. Great leadership can be measured by the ability to delegate, trust your team, and secure an outstanding work product from those around you.

Understanding the importance of delegation to their own performance, team morale, and plain old efficiency is a crucial first skill for new leaders. The sooner you get behind this one, the better.

Remember, delegate doesn’t mean hand it off and walk away. It means give the responsibility to your staff and then stay engaged and accountable — guiding, teaching and coaching them when they need it.

Giving and receiving feedback

Oh boy, another critical leadership skill that often gets overlooked. We’ve worked with so many leaders who would rather not rock the boat with their team and would rather try to maintain harmony by avoiding uncomfortable conversations.

How often have you thought to yourself “maybe this will just go away,” or “maybe they’ll figure it out before I have to say anything.” But, being able to give feedback in a way that improves performance, improves work product, and helps the team members, goes a long way to team cohesiveness.

Equally as important is developing the ability to receive feedback as a new leader. Being open to hearing from mentors, peers, and team members about how you can improve is one of the fastest ways to course correct any bad habits or tendencies. Receiving feedback well (and applying it appropriately) can catapult a new leader from rookie to pro in no time.

Goal Management

Ok, so you’re great at delegating and you give and receive feedback like a champ.

Another initial skill to master is what we call Goal Management — yes, that is goal setting but it’s also, delivering on the goal. Goal management is the vehicle that takes you and your team from where you are to where you want to be. Knowing how to lead your team to identify goals AND ACHIEVE THEM is the first step to achieving organizational goals and without it, you’ll be lost as a new leader.

So what’s your approach? Who do you engage in setting goals? How often do you check in to make sure the team is on course toward those goals? We so often make great plans and then, subconsciously, set them aside to deal with the daily workload, the crisis du jour, the next big thing that comes along. One key step that will boost your success is to commit to and build-in a check-in process and sticking to that process as you go.

Do you have weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with your team members? Have those meetings become a review of what’s urgent? What’s looming? What we need to tackle this week?

If so, it’s time to build in a few moments to take a step back, to look at your bigger previously agreed upon goals, and figure out if you’re on track. Even with the day-to-day challenges, are they still on the right path to the bigger goals? Are you helping them have time and energy to tackle the bigger goals? Are you rewarding success toward the longer term goals, or only success in the short term crisis after crisis?

These alone will help to smooth the transition for any new leader but what about the deeper layers for pro status?

You won’t likely see these listed in many job descriptions but without them, your opportunities may become limited.

Humility

I’ve seen it time and time again, a new leader tries to overcompensate for their lack of leadership experience by suppressing vulnerability and acting more confident than they actually are. This, to us here at Padraig, is a big mistake and a lost opportunity. By practicing humility and embracing where you are in your leadership journey, you open yourself up to greater understanding, connection, and room for growth. It took some of us a long time to realize it but you’ll be more successful being humble and transparent then trying to prove you’ve got it all mastered.

Self-awareness

Understanding how you have an impact on those around you, and knowing how they see you, is wildly underrated as a leadership skill. It’s only when we know ourselves, and how others see us, that we can learn to adapt and shift our approach, to better relate to each individual. That’s true, and essential, whether you’re leading a team or interacting with prospective clients. You have to know how others see you and how you’re being received.


We have some amazing assessment tools to help with that and, of course, this is one area where a coach can be a huge help. If you’re able to anticipate how your role moves people (or doesn’t) you can make adjustments to your approach and soon you, and your team, will be making huge wins.

Desire to serve others

This one is really about mindset. A simple desire to be helpful is a useful skill for any human but, as a leader, if you’re able to use that as a lens through which you see your team, it’ll provide enormous returns. Leaders whom we trust and want to follow achieve moral authority by being servants to followers and organizations, not by wielding titles or using coercive power. First popularized by Robert K Greenleaf, this philosophy is endorsed by such greats as Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey and Peter Senge. Of course, achieving this requires a great deal of humility.

Our Coach’s Questions

How deep are you in your leadership strength? Which of the skills we’ve talked about would you like to practise and promote? What will you do today to advance those skills?