Happy manual worker handshaking with African American manager who is visiting factory with her colleague.

Getting into Flow with Respectful Relationships

What have the last eight months taught you about the value of relationships at work? With so may of us working at home and only communicating with our colleagues virtually, it’s likely that relationships have become even more important, helping with team cohesion, wellbeing and performance.

There’s plenty of evidence that social interactions make us humans happier. Research has even shown that ‘weak ties’, created through small talk with strangers or acquaintances, can lead to greater feelings of belonging and happiness. All relationships need respect to function, and respect in workplace relationships is critical to team and organisational performance.

Having respectful relationships is part of what’s needed to enable teams to create and experience ‘flow’ together. Flow is the optimum state of intrinsic motivation, in which people experience peak performance and greater wellbeing.

Why we need (more than a little) respect

We know that respect is central to positive organisational performance. According to a 2004 Gallup study, respect is the number one driver for workplace engagement. Conversely, separate research finds that people who feel they are being treated disrespectfully at work can often intentionally decrease their effort and the quality of their work.

A respectful working relationships doesn’t mean being a Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection. It doesn’t mean keeping your workplace and home or ‘real’ personas separate. And it isn’t engendered and kept alive by an annual team away day. Instead, it means teams taking time to understand each other and to nurture relationships, and creating a strong sense of inclusion and belonging.

Without all this, it’s far more challenging to create team cohesion. And it can damage productivity as people are not able to have challenging, open and honest conversations in the workplace about performance. Too many organisations can find themselves dealing with grievances and other complex ER issues to an inability to openly discuss performance, and this can be traced back to a lack of respectful relationships among colleagues.

Respectful relationships within teams also serves to increase trust – and trust is critical for teams to flow together. If people really know each other on a deeper level, it means they are better able to sidestep any false assumptions judgements and get on with the task at hand. Trust means people feel empowered and supported, and are more likely to seek and receive feedback and to openly share ideas without fear.

Building Respectful Relationships

With anxiety and uncertainty spiking thanks to the ongoing pandemic, it has probably never been a more important focus on building respectful relationships among your teams. Here are some ideas on how to go about it:

– Create safe spaces free from judgment for people to share and open up. We cannot build respectful relationships if we don’t really know each other. Encourage people to share their vulnerabilities and help them feel confident in bringing their authentic selves to work. Remote working means creating spaces for people to do this virtually, and encouraging human-to-human connection rather than focusing on work all the time.

– Really listen. Too often we focus on what we are going to say next, rather than truly turning into what the other person is saying. Respectful relationships require great listening skills.

– Working remotely presents a challenge in some ways but an opportunity in others. For example, could you have a checklist of Post-It notes on your screen that reminds you to listen and reflect connecting with others?

– Talk about performance regularly and openly. Feedback is critical to great organisational performance and respectful relationships allow honest dialogue. Address misunderstandings quickly rather than letting them fester

– Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. As a leader, get to know your team members’ various strengths and encourage them to do the same for each other

– Remember that as whole humans all our relationships matter and impact our work, including those with our friends and family who are unconnected to our work. How much time do we spend nurturing all our relationships to feel supported and meaningfully connected?