In the workplace, relationships matter. Whether you need help accomplishing a task, guidance from a mentor to further your career, or support from a co-worker to overcome a challenge, having people in your corner makes a difference—in your success and your job satisfaction. But small business leaders often wonder how to build workplace relationships and how to encourage their teams to build better relationships. 

With the rise of remote work and hybrid workplace models, relationship building is becoming even more challenging and more critical. But it is possible to form bonds with people whether you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder or on the other side of the world; global teams have been doing it successfully long before the pandemic changed the way we work.  

Let’s explore why workplace relationships matter and what you can do to get better at building relationships at work.

Why workplace relationships matter

Strong relationships benefit both the employer and the employee in two powerful ways. 

1. Relationships promote teamwork

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

A business is only as successful as its people. But while individuals can make an impact, it’s teamwork that drives progress. The more effectively team members collaborate, the more efficient, productive, and innovative the organization can be. People solve problems, find solutions, and drive progress—better, together. Strong relationships make this possible.    

Workplace relationships enable individuals to be better at their job and to better enjoy their job. It stands to reason that things run more smoothly when people get along, respect one another, and communicate well. Work is less stressful and more fulfilling when your coworkers are trusted friends or at least congenial acquaintances. 

2. Relationships enhance careers

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

When leaders foster relationships with their team members, it puts them in a position to identify talent, potential, and opportunities. It also allows them to recognize challenges team members are facing and offer guidance and support. For a leader, fostering relationships within the organization means people are more eager to put forth their best effort to reach goals and objectives. Strong relationships make better leaders. 

When individual contributors foster strong relationships in the workplace, it means they have more people looking out for their best interests. They can turn to their coworkers for answers to questions, feedback, and insights. They are more likely to have someone speak up on their behalf, recommend them for projects, and offer a heads-up regarding opportunities.

When someone gets passed over for an exciting project or promotion, they often wonder what skills they can improve to position themselves for success next time. Sometimes, it’s a specific technical skill or lack of experience. But often, the missing skill is not knowing how to build workplace relationships. 

You’ve heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While this is often said with a defeatist tone, why not take it as a challenge instead? Remember, you can always get to know more people, and let more people get to know you. 

How to build workplace relationships 

For some people, relationship building seems to come naturally. They are outgoing, extroverted, and charismatic. Even so, it’s important to remember that people who make friends easily outside of work may struggle to foster beneficial relationships in a professional environment where the stakes are higher and the rules are different than in purely social situations. 

For others, it may take more effort to connect, especially if they are shy, introverted, or consider themselves socially awkward. But the reality is, you don’t have to be the life of the party or a social butterfly to learn how to build workplace relationships. 

Relationship building is a skill and anyone can learn how to do it.  Even if you are an introvert or you don’t consider yourself a “people person,” you can form meaningful relationships. Some even say introverts have advantages because they are good listeners and observers with a keen sense of curiosity.

No matter your personality or disposition, you will benefit from learning how to build workplace relationships with peers, leaders, mentors, team members, people outside of your department, and people outside of the company. Don’t limit yourself.

  • Connect with people above, below, and lateral to you on the organizational chart.
  • Connect with people who look different from you or come from a different background.
  • Connect with people who are new to the company and those who have been there longer than you.
  • Connect with vendors, consultants, and other people in your industry or profession.

Some connections will be deeper than others. But most importantly, you want to make some effort to connect. Start small and grow over time.

If workplace relationship building is a skill you want to improve, approach it like any other goal. 

  • Make it a priority. 
  • Take a no-excuses approach. 
  • Block off time on your calendar. 
  • Strike up conversations in the hallway (or Slack). 
  • Look up from your screen and make eye contact. 
  • Arrive early to meetings.
  • Make small talk. (Yes, even if you claim to hate small talk!)

Just because you’ve been eating lunch alone doesn’t mean you have to continue doing so. Grab coffee with someone, go for a walk, schedule a Zoom chat. IIt might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it will get better.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be painful. Remember, you are doing this for the greater good—for your personal growth and career advancement. If you want to be the best at your job you can be, the key is to build strong relationships.  

Start by taking an assessment of where you stand now. Reflecting on yourself as a team member will help you better build strong relationships with others. 

Download this free resource:  Being An Excellent Team Member, Self-Evaluation by HRAnswers

Next, follow this simple checklist for nurturing and growing powerful relationships at work:

  1. Be an attentive listener. Put away technology.
  2. Give your full attention. Look at the person with whom you are speaking.
  3. Be an effective listener. Process what they are saying to understand; not to respond.
  4. Ask how you can help. Even if they don’t have anything that they can share with you to do, just the fact that you asked establishes a true connection and sense of support.
  5. Disagree respectfully. Challenging your team members is actually super-productive (if executed with respect). Even when you don’t agree about a project approach or task. Be patient, helpful, and remain open-minded. Most single decisions won’t tank a project, so be flexible, go with the flow, be willing to try a new “way” … and, most of all, compromise.
  6. Spread positive “gossip.” Generally, I advise against gossip. Here is the exception: next time you’re out to lunch, in the break room, or hanging out waiting for the copier-tech to finish repairs. Tell team members about the good work that your co-workers are d
    doing; how much you appreciate their support, help, and guidance.
  7. Say thank you and show appreciation: a single small piece of a team member’s favorite candy, a flower, a cup of coffee delivered to their desk by you. Whatever you know your team member likes, be gracious and giving. Show appreciation for efforts, achievements, great ideas, and as a “pick me up” when you know someone is having a rough day.

Building genuine relationships

In learning how to build workplace relationships, always strive to create genuine, mutually beneficial relationships. The idea isn’t to find out who can help you further your agenda or to focus on what you can get out of the other person. If you are sincere in your intentions, treat people with respect, and look for opportunities to help others, everyone wins. 

Contact us for more information on how you can work with the HR Answers team to design and implement programs that will help your team build productive, enjoyable relationship at work. Here are a few ways we help our clients improve workplace relationships:

  • Communications Skills Workshop and/or training
  • Team Building 1/2 day experience
  • Conflict Resolution Facilitation
  • Complaint process management and investigations

What can we take off your plate? Contact us today for customized HR consulting or HR training & development services.