As part of a project team effective working relationships are more critical than most other working relationships. It is always preferable to have good working relationships with your co-workers, but this is easier when you sit in your respective cubes, saying hi and only occasionally needing something from them to get your job done. It is an entirely different story when you are locked into deep collaboration with many coworkers, over many months (or in some cases years), and everyone’s success ultimately relies on the effective functioning of the team. Under these conditions differences in the type of work each person does, working styles, and personalities that would normally not cause any strife become a lot more challenging to deal with.
I have recently been put on a project that has gone on for quite awhile and is under a lot of pressure to reach that magical, and as yet elusive, go live date. The work is challenging and complex. The members of the project are worn out and there is a real need to push past the frustration and come together as a team. A few of us are new to the team and a few have been around awhile, but all of the team members are talented, well-adjusted and intelligent people. Still, a lot of change on the project means that we all need to figure out how to best work together.
This task has me thinking about building and maintaining healthy relationships. With some thought and reading I have realized that relationships are built on a few key principles.
Some key elements for healthy relationships:
Commitment is so important. Knowing that each member is committed to the project helps with the next two elements. If my teammates don’t see my commitment to the project they won’t feel that they can rely on me (trust). If I’m not committed to the project I won’t put the best of myself into it and they will lose respect for me and my work. So, first priority on this project is to demonstrate my commitment to it.
Trust is also critical. Trust encompasses so much and is so fragile. It only takes one action to destroy another’s trust in me. I’ve been considering the nature of trust and I have realized that it can be split into two types of actions. Teammates need to trust me to do my part, and to keep my commitments. If I say I will deliver on a task I need to do so. More important than the tasks though, each team member needs to be able to trust me with their feelings and reputation. I have to always think of, and speak of, a team member respectfully, even if I disagree with them or I am frustrated with them. This needs to occur in how I speak to them, how I speak about them to others, and how I think about them. Why do I want to control even how I’m thinking in the privacy of my own mind? I want to do this because what I’m thinking comes out in everything that I communicate. It may be non-verbal communication, but it is communication all the same. I know that I do my best work when I feel I can trust those I work with. Trust allows me to focus on the task at hand and give it my best efforts, keeping me from getting caught up in drama. Recognizing this, I owe it to my teammates to trust me to contribute, do my best work, and to speak and think of them with respect and kindness.
Respect is a funny thing. Songs and comedy routines, thinking Rodney Dangerfield here, are built around the concept. Culturally I have been taught to give it grudgingly. I want respect and expect it, yet how good am I at giving it? Respect is all about taking the time to recognize the talents and contributions of others. You know, a coworkers good qualities (and yes they have them, lots of them). We are taught to be critical…or was that critical thinkers? Yet, somehow this translates to being full of criticism. I know I’m not alone in this. I often hear others disparaging remarks about themselves or others. The number one descriptive term I hear regularly from others is stupid, stupid system, stupid coworker, stupid me. Respect is two pronged. I want to make sure that I’m thinking of myself and others respectfully. Respect must be given to be earned. I have experienced too often that dreadful cycle of offense given, then defensiveness, offense given back…repeat, until relationships become frayed.
To recap, here is what I will be working on as I work to become a part of my new team:
1) I will show my commitment to the project through my words and actions, demonstrating that I will give the best of myself to making the project a success.
2) I will build trust by treating those around me with kindness and respect both through my actions and words.
3) I will commit to safeguarding others feelings and reputations as if they were my own so that I can keep the trust that I build.
4) I will strive to be critical only in the way that helps to build a better project, thus focus on processes and tasks, and I will not be critical in a way that undermines another’s feelings of value.
So there it is my little manifesto for better working relationships. Wouldn’t it be great if as a team we could create these up front? They are obvious when stated perhaps but like many seemingly simple things it does not take long to understand, but it may take a lifetime to master.