First, build relations


I was recently reminded how important it is to build relations between individual members of a team before any collaborative work is being initiated. And this isn’t solely a virtual teams’ issue. It’s common.

The trouble spot

What if someone disagrees with your opinion? What if you hear a remark that doesn’t *seem* all too kind? Or if someone pats you on the shoulder for some reason (and you don’t like it)? What if the message in your inbox is too short or too long, too harsh or too sweet?

We usually consult our internal judge. In practice, emotions often win – we complain, burst out, start arguing or exercise “assertiveness”. Even if we are able to refrain from any immediate reaction, we might be holding a grudge, collecting “minuses”, waiting for the right moment when our “patience tank” is empty and then.. well… we have to act.

But what if?

What if the other person was actually wrong? What if he or she made a mistake? Overestimated our sense of humor, didn’t realize patting on the shoulder didn’t necessarly work in our culture, misunderstood our “friendly signal”? What if that person didn’t figure out (somehow) that we had “one of those days…”?

Intentions are key

When you start by building relations, you realize the first thing you gain is trust in the other person’s good intent. Sometimes this means getting to know the traditions of a different culture, dealing with generalizations and prejudices, or any virtual barriers for that matter. 

“As human beings, we are all the same, there is no need to build some kind of artificial barrier between us.” – Dalai Lama

The bottom line

Trusting the good intentions behind another person’s actions, we often learn from hindsight, that indeed, they where pure, the reasoning understandable. For the team this understanding means higher likelihood of success in any endeavor, fewer conflicts in general, and more fun on the way.

First, build relations.

A leadership exercise

“We start in pairs. One person will have his eyes covered. The other will be the leader.”

A typical leadership excercise, done in rounds. Both participants (the ‘leader’ and the ‘follower’) are instructed separately. The leader is told to guide the follower to an agreed location, usually several hundred meters away. The single oddity being that the latter cannot see a single thing and has to rely on the assurance, instructions, and a helpful hand from the leader (first round). In the second round, the task and route stay the same, but the leader’s assurance and instructions will have to do. In the third – the follower is entirely on his own.

Neither of the two roles are easy. Clarity is paramount. Clarity drives trust. However, the responsibility you bare, as a leader, is in proportion to the trust you were able to build. You give your team the right to make mistakes (a must), but responsibility stays on your side.