Five ways to build better relationships with your team

If knowing yourself as a leader is the foundation of your personal effectiveness, knowing those you lead is a key determinant of your team’s success. That’s because focusing on the work to be done or the desired results is only part of the equation. It is just as important to engage, inspire and empower those you lead for them to succeed.

It’s about building relationships at a more personal level and being genuinely interested in getting to know your employees and what’s important to them. The process requires a high level of awareness and needs both your head and your heart involved along the way.

What can you do to build the relationships that matter?

If you’re keen to build (or deepen) the relationships that underpin truly effective leadership and team success, here are five concrete ways to focus your time and energy for the best results:

1. Get to know your people 

It’s a given that you’ll want to know what each person brings to the team, including their strengths, limitations, professional aspirations and desired areas for growth and development. Your team members want you to know those things too. But team members also want you to know what they care about and how their personal lives may affect their ability to succeed.

So go beyond the basics and get to know your team at a personal level. As best you can, do it individually, not just with the team itself. Here are just a few of the key things you’ll want to explore:

  • Who are they, personally and professionally?
  • What do they care about, and what are the values that shape them?
  • What are they good at; what gets in their way?
  • What enables them to make their greatest contribution?

2. Find out what they need to thrive 

Work with your team to find out what they need to thrive. Most importantly, what do they want and need from you as their leader? And what will success look like for them and your working relationship?

You should expect this to look a little different for each member of the team, and be prepared to adjust your leadership style and approaches accordingly.

3. Be open about who you are and what you expect

Allow your team to get to know you and what you stand for. When you do, you’ll be helping to build a foundation of trust.

This is also the time to set expectations. Be clear about what you expect from the team and what your team can expect from you. Then follow through to hold yourself and your team accountable.

4. Be present

When you spend time with your people, make sure to give them your full, undivided attention. Whether it’s a brief hallway chat or a substantial conversation, take the time – and the interest – to make it count, beginning with how you show up, connect and listen.

Leaders who are fully present do (and don’t do) several things. First, they set aside distractions and interruptions and bring their full attention to the conversation – that’s a given. More importantly, they bring their focus and discipline to noticing when their own mind is wandering or jumping to conclusions and bring themselves back to the person in front of them. Much like a ‘full-contact sport’, it requires you to be all in, fully in the moment. Easier to say than do, as the leaders I coach tell me often! However, they also tell me how much of a difference it makes in their interpersonal communications when they do it. They also report positive feedback from peers and staff as a result. That’s the power of a leader being present.

In sharp contrast, you can also see, hear and feel it when a leader is not fully present, and the interpersonal connection is broken (or wasn’t made at the outset). Mentally, they might be miles away, preparing for their next meeting or rehashing the one they just had. Or, they might be looking right at you, but wrapped up in how they’re going to respond before you’ve finished speaking. As you likely know from experience, it’s hard to be (and feel) seen or heard when you’re on the receiving end of that kind of interaction.

5. Check in regularly 

Building awareness and relationships takes time. Make it a habit to invest in the process on an ongoing basis and watch your relationships—and your effectiveness—flourish.

While there are many dimensions to effective leadership, your ability to engage, inspire and empower the success of those you lead is essential to the work. The process starts with knowing who you’re leading, and it’s a job that requires your head and your heart.

In fact, when researchers examine the practices of the most effective leaders, those who stand out are those who demonstrate a keen interest in the development of others, and invest in building authentic relationships with their people. What might it look like for you?

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at

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