Money and power complicate business relationships. When someone has the power to fire you, thereby drastically reducing your income, it restricts your level of openness and honesty.
Intellectually we know it’s detrimental to the entire organization when a limited number of voices are heard. In practice, even businesses with open door policies rarely really hear what employees have to say. Numbers, strategy, and rational decision making take precedence over meaningful conversation.
Conversely, humans are emotional beings and strong interpersonal relationships are important for building dedication, staff retention, innovation, and ultimately the customer satisfaction upon which every company depends.
One of the barriers to creating powerful working relationships is a difference in expectations. Most business leaders still operate on hierarchical model that hasn’t kept up with our social mindset.
Access to information and higher education has trained us to be independent thinkers who expect to make decisions, have a high level of autonomy, and to be treated as equals in all aspects of our lives.
Bridging that mindset gap requires a shift in perspective from managers who are bosses to managers who are team leaders. Encouraging everyone to be involved in what, how, and when things are done opens the door to effective communication and highly functioning organizations.
Physical and emotional proximity is another important consideration. Many managers work in private offices, this limits interaction, creates psychological separation, and can hinder the the forging of relationships. It may be normal but it isn’t necessarily healthy.
Non-management staff members tend to share work space and life stories, eat lunch together, socialize outside of work, and rely on each other to accomplish tasks and goals without ever issuing a command. They speak freely about what’s working and not working and how things could be made better because they have physical and emotional proximity.
Regardless of the particular issues in your company, it takes awareness and concerted effort to create powerful relationships. If you have new employees, take the time to build the bond from day one, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. Make an effort to have lunch or chat with as many employees as you can, especially the ones you have grown to dislike.
If your team works offsite, call to ask how they are doing and have a real conversation. Don’t leave the interaction for when there is a problem. Keep the lines of communication open, call randomly and say something nice.
Most importantly be genuine; if you just go through the motions you will do more harm than good. Yes, it’s hard to quantify the results but it’s easy to feel when the energy in a company is good and when it is bad. And when you inevitably make a mistake, as we all will, those who know you and trust you will be more likely to work through the issue, and that is a powerful relationship.