3 Ways to Build Quality Relationships with Your Employees

June 23, 2016

I developed The Relationship EcosystemTM  in response to comments and frustrations I heard from leaders regarding the quality (or lack thereof) of their relationships with their colleagues. This is a language that enables individuals to discuss how they work together and take appropriate action to improve the quality of those interactions.

Identify the Roles of Your Colleagues

The Ally: An Ally has your back. This is an unconditional relationship: one that you can depend on during good and tough times. You’re as invested in your Ally’s success as she or he is in yours (although you do not need to be working on the same project).

To clarify, Ally relationships are not about skipping through the daisies where everything is wonderful all the time. Allies will give you the tough feedback—as well as the encouragement—you need. An Ally will be the first person in your office to tell you, “Your presentation sucked.” They hold the mirror to your face and make you take a hard look at what just happened. They then coach you through it and help you fix it.

An Ally’s motto is “I’m right here with you.”

The Supporter: Supporters are fun and nice to work with. They are your fan club, encouraging you and providing feedback—but only when you ask (Allies will give you feedback whether you ask or not). Supporters can be relied upon to help out when times are good. But when the going gets tough, they become silent and are unlikely to take personal risks to help. This relationship is conditional in nature.

A Supporter’s motto is “I’m right behind you.”

The Rival:  Rivals behave in an overtly competitive way, with the competition focused not just on the next promotion, but also on limited company resources. For example, a Rival may compete with you for budgetary support for a specific project or for the fifteen-minute window of time with the boss. This relationship is also conditional. When it suits the agenda of the Rival, they can work well alongside you. However, when your Rival’s agenda is contrary to yours, the working relationship becomes more challenging.

The motto of a Rival is “I am ahead of you.”

The Adversary: Adversaries are by far the most troublesome and stress-inducing relationships. This is an unconditional relationship—the Adversary will be challenging no matter what. Adversaries come in two forms: One is the Overt Adversary, whose actions are right out in the open. You know who this person is. When you know something isn’t quite right but may not be able to identify where the problem is coming from or who is causing the disruption, you may have a Covert Adversary.

Adversarial behavior can, at the extreme, be malicious, deliberately undermining your reputation.

The motto of an Adversary is “I’m against you!”

Nurture Your Professional Relationships

If you have identified a portfolio of Rival and Adversary relationships, don’t panic. You are not alone. More importantly, I have the answer to cultivating winning relationships—Ally Relationships—that help ensure success. Here are three steps that will help you to cultivate winning relationships across your organization:

1. Build – Seek out opportunities to get to know the people around you as people, not just at the transactional level of “can you do this for me…?”  You may be surprised at just how connected you can become when you take the time to ask a few questions and listen to their responses.

2. Work – Ask for help and input from your colleagues. You may receive a suggestion you hadn’t considered! By asking questions, your colleagues, direct reports, and bosses will begin to feel vested in your success.

3. Share – Generosity and Abundance are crucial elements of Ally relationships. The most successful people are the ones who share their network and expertise; they give more than they take.  Make introductions, share your wisdom and build a reputation for being the “go-to” person.

Finally, stay in the game, and if necessary, change your game. There is so much at stake for you and your team. After all, business is personal and relationships do matter. When it comes to employee engagement,  relationships matter most of all.

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About The Author

Morag Barrett is the best-selling author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR consulting and leadership development company. Morag’s experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing leaders and teams across Europe, America and Asia. SkyeTeam works with clients in a range of industries including: Healthcare, Telecoms, Mining, Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology.


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    […] relationships with customers and business partners or internal relationships when a leader works to build trust and community among her management team, the effective Relational Leader succeeds when she takes an “intentional” approach to […]

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    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article. Glad to hear it resonated for you!


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    Great article, thanks! It can be a struggle working in a team consisting of people with such different personalities, and it is near impossible to get a team where everyone is just great people with great personality and character. I really appreciate the list of roles in this article. The list helps me to identify who’s who, and that helps me how to work with them differently.

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