My mentor told me early in my career that if you are going to have just one relationship with a team member it needed to be a professional one, not a personal one. He went on to state that it would be hard to be out bowling with the group one night and then have to call one of them in to address a performance issue the next day. That would be complicated. I can appreciate that, and that is the way I operated for most of my career. However, as I continued to grow in my calling as a leader, I began to understand servant leadership and changed my approach in this area. I began to treat my work team like family.One of my favorite leadership authors is John Maxwell. He has said that the people on your team won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We should be leaders who are known to care about their team members. We should see them as people with families, dreams, goals and concerns, and not resources. Nobody looks at their family members like resources.
My first meeting with a new team member was always just about them, not about the work (unless they specifically addressed it). I called these “Getting to Know You” meetings. I wanted to know about them, their families, etc., basically what was important to them. How can you lead and serve someone if you don’t know what is significant to them?
I have a good friend who reported to an up and coming leader for a few years. This leader made it to a senior leadership position after having been in the organization after just a few years. My friend mentioned that his leader was very smart, but that their conversations were all business, nothing personal. I asked my friend, “So he wouldn’t know your wife’s name then?” He replied that his leader wouldn’t even know if he was married. That’s sad, and it’s not the type of leader I wanted to be, or want you to be.
Aim to really get to know the people on your team. Know their spouse’s name (if they are married) and their children’s names (if appropriate). Find out what their interests are, what music they like, and what sports teams they follow. When you know your team members, you will be able to ask them how their family is doing, talk about last night’s game, etc. When you establish that relationship, your team members will be more willing to share with you important things that are going on in their lives, such as medical tests or surgeries that you can pray for. Yes, pray for. While only a small percentage of team members were open about their Christian faith, and I was limited in what I could say about mine, I never had anyone turn me down when I said that I would be putting their family member on my prayer list. As you get to know your team members, you will share in their lives, which will include attending funerals and weddings.
One of the things we did that was most helpful in fostering good relationships was a monthly team birthday lunch. Whoever had a birthday that month would choose where we celebrated. The lunches were always a great time to get caught up with each other. While the lunches were optional, we tended to always have a nice turnout.
It’s important to note that appropriate boundaries should be set between the leader and the team members to insure a comfortable working environment (such as not going to happy hour with your folks). Getting to know the members of your team is important, and will help when you go through difficult times at work, which I did with my team the final six months of my career when positions were being eliminated.
We spend more time in the workplace with our work teams than we do with our families. Doesn’t it make sense to establish good relationships, find out what is important in your team members’ lives and treat them like family?
Please share what have you done to get to establish relationships with your team members.