How Building Trusting Relationships Affects Everything at Work

I often challenge teams and individuals that I work with to think about the health of their overall relationships inside and outside the organizations they work for. Sometimes they look at me puzzled as to why I would ask such a question. Really think about it. It starts with knowing those you work with as people, not just what they do for the organization, but who they are as human beings. That is how the basic human connection is established and the key to any successful relationship is built on the foundation of trust. Imagine if you didn’t trust your immediate manager, employees, or colleagues? How productive and successful are you going to be at moving yourself and team forward?

Are Your Relationships Working for You?

The more I talk to individuals in the business world, the more I realize that relationships will make or break any individual’s level of effectiveness and ultimately, their success. Sadly, too many leaders fail to recognize when there are problems with their relationships. This lack of awareness sours relationships and can kill engagement levels. That’s why I recommend checking in with yourself and honestly assessing your relationships.

Here’s an exercise you can do to objectively assess the quality of your relationships.

First, write down the names of all the people – inside and outside of your organization – with whom your success is dependent upon. People such as your direct reports, boss, peers, external partners etc. Then, reflect on the strength of your relationship by answering the following questions:

  • Do you have a trusting relationship with this person?
  • How well do you really know the person?
  • Can you call upon the person for support, if needed?
  • How willing are you to provide support if they ask you for assistance?

If you go through this exercise honestly, you will probably find that some of your relationships are in need of repair. And if you’ve been going through challenging times, it’s likely that poor relationships have led to some of your struggles.

Thankfully, you have the power to take action by changing your approach and your behavior!

Ten Dos and Don’ts for Creating Better Organizational Relationships

#1 – DO Take Your Relationships Very Seriously

According to Globoforce, more than three quarters of us spend more time with our coworkers than with our families! In fact, only 52% of survey respondents said they spend more than 30 hours per week with their families, while a whopping 91% said they spend more than 30 hours each week with their coworkers.

The lesson here is that you can’t take your work relationships lightly. Work relationships are incredibly significant, both personally and professionally, and your organization’s success or failure will hinge upon your ability to create strong relationships with those around you. It’s equally important to create an organizational culture where positive relationships matter to everyone, regardless of title or position.

#2 – DON’T Rely Solely on Socializing to Boost Relationships

Certainly, social events, holiday parties, and other breaks from the normal routine represent great opportunities to converse and socialize. But too many people rely solely on these socialization opportunities to build relationships.

The most effective leaders and individuals in general understand that relationships are built and maintained through connection and ongoing engagement that happens more subtly, on a day-to-day basis. So, don’t make it always about business, seek to build deep and meaningful connections with those around you.

#3 – DO Make Sure People Feel Heard

Listening is one of the most powerful relationship-building tools available, but leaders fail to take advantage of it far too often. To be effective, use one-on-one interactions as opportunities to listen to what your team members have to say and get a sense of what they're thinking. Have them take the lead during your interactions and try to stifle the urge to interrupt!

When an organization’s leaders value the voices of individuals, relationships grow in a positive fashion. The most successful and effective leaders are excellent listeners, are you?

#4 – DON’T Lower Your Expectations

When you’re challenged by a relationship, you may be tempted to lower your expectations instead of doing what it takes to make sure your expectations are met. Don’t take the easy way out! Instead, work with the person to establish an understanding of expectations and collaborate on a plan to achieve them.

#5 – DO Address Issues ASAP

It’s easy to wait until a team member’s annual performance evaluation to bring up issues. Unfortunately, when you wait, you allow relationships to go sour as issues continue to be unaddressed. By addressing concerns immediately, you can ensure that you stay on the same page and that your people don’t have to play guessing games about what’s required of them.

#6 – DON’T Break Promises

Relationships need to be built on a foundation of trust for them to work. So, it’s critical that you honor your promises and commitments. You know firsthand how frustrating it is when someone lets you down and doesn’t deliver as committed. Few things erode trust more quickly than broken promises and failure to deliver on commitments.

#7 – DO Find Common Ground

When you’re feeling challenged at building a relationship with someone, getting on the right track requires you to put your ego aside and operate with the greater good in mind. Therefore, you should avoid politics and playing power games to elevate yourself within the organization. Instead, work to find common ground from which you can move forward effectively. I guarantee you will find something in common with everyone you meet. All that is required on your part is patience and desire to look beyond the “mask” that we all wear sometimes to find common ground with others.

#8 – DON’T Encourage Gossip

Don’t encourage gossip and by all means, do not participate in gossip yourself! Gossip is a relationship killer and an organizational poison. As a leader, you need to set a standard of open, honest communication that your people will appreciate. Strong relationships thrive in environments where people speak and act with integrity, but if you allow gossip to fester, you’ll create relationship challenges that may be difficult to overcome.

#9 – DO Have Patience

It takes time to build and maintain strong, effective relationships with others. A single conversation or meeting is never going to solve relationship issues; it takes a series of interactions to establish – or rebuild – trust. And the process may take an uncomfortably long time. However, your patient efforts will pay off in the form of an engaged workforce that’s made up of people who know you’re there for them through the long haul.

#10 – DON’T Dwell on the Past

Looking at past performance and behavior is a good way to determine how to move forward with any relationship. It gives you an opportunity to recognize correctable patterns and it allows you to assess both the good and the bad about your own leadership style.

Examine the past, but focus on the future by discussing goals and desired outcomes. Encourage others to talk freely about their experiences and make sure they understand that future success is far more important than focusing on things of the past or the old way of doing things.

Creating an Engaged Workforce by Building Strong Relationships

Your organization isn’t just an office suite, a building, or a warehouse. It’s a collection of people intertwined in relationships with one another. And those relationships will determine the success of your endeavors. As a leader, it’s up to you to create a culture that values strong, positive, trusting relationships. By focusing on improving the relationships you have with those around you both internally and externally, you will be more successful at achieving your own goals as well as the broader organizational goals and objectives.

Do you have any additional advice or insight about organizational relationships? I would love to hear what you think! I encourage you to reach out via email to me at

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