Engaging Team Members: Managing by Building Relationships

Web Collaboration - Engaging Team Members: Managing by Building Relationships

As discussed in Keeping Team Members Engaged in a Distributed Workplace:

Initial Thoughts for Discussion, it is hard to stay current with everything, let alone be fully active in all of the networks in which we are members. It is a challenge to accomplish work demands while fulfilling personal responsibilities, not to mention trying to have some type of leisure moments that foster rejuvenation and enable “re-creation.”

There is too much happening in our networked lifestyles, where boundaries are hard to maintain or have vanished altogether between the workplace and home life. This dynamic is impacting an organization’s ability to promote sustainable collaborative work styles, maintain effective collaborative work environments, and keep workplace stress low.

What are some ways to start addressing this common occurrence in order to strengthen an organization’s “collaborative capital” and expand its “collaborative intelligence”?

To begin…

Collaboration is a value-add to today’s organization and needs to be consciously developed as a core component of the organization’s culture and workplace environment.

Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chairman and CEO at Cisco states “Collaboration is highly diversified teams working together inside and outside a company with the purpose to create value by improving innovation, customer relationships and efficiency while leveraging technology for effective interactions in the virtual and physical space.”

To operate effectively and to maintain their competitive edge, organizations need “Collaborative Intelligence” (a sense of participatory and interactive engagement embedded in the organization’s culture and operations) and “Collaborative Capital” (the people and resources who have the capacity, skill set and interest in working together in innovative ways).

For there to be collaboration there needs to be various degrees and forms of social interaction and community building, as well as a commitment to the collaborative process and relationship building central to participatory workplace systems.

Collaboration is multi-faceted with various dimensions. There are levels of collaboration, each requiring its own form of availability, commitment, trust, and social interaction. These dimensions or levels form a continuum, ranging from being accessible, to explicitly available, to being consciously engaged and interactive with colleagues, to cooperating, to coordinated collaboration, to formal and informal partnerships and alliances, to structured teams,  and finally to workplace communities.

With that in mind, we might ask, how can organizations and their managers start to address this “non engagement issue” that hinders routine and effective collaboration?

Steps to start reframing the work process begin with viewing the organization, not as a machine, but as a dynamic complex social system. This entails shifting the manager’s focus from tasks to people, from getting the job done to developing high performing work relationships. Viable work conditions and operational processes are designed and established in a manner that take the whole person into account, including the demands of the networks in which they are daily active.


First: If collaboration is going to take place, be of high quality, add value to the organization’s operation, and result in the intended creativity and efficiency, factors that impact the workforce have to be determined. Hindrances need to be assessed and limited or, when possible, eliminated.

Second: The organization’s or unit’s way of self-organizing (including its structure, culture, human resources, management approaches, forms of communication, networking processes, and politics) must be able to support collaboration in the manner that is sought by the leaders, teams, staff members, etc. Organizational and workplace “readiness” must be determined, and a development process must be added if needed.

Third: Understanding both the organization’s goals and employees’ situation, reasonable job expectations, work demands and workloads, as well as healthy work-life integration standards must be identified and implemented. The appropriate leadership approach and work environments will put in place and needed tools, including communication systems and collaboration platforms.

Fourth: Managers lead and empower people, not merely to oversee whether tasks are being done effectively and efficiently. One way of doing this is for managers to:

  • Shift their focus from “managing task completion” to “facilitating work relationships” where talented people collaborate so customers are served well and the organization’s goals are met.
  • Focus on establishing commitment to the organization and assigned project, professional familiarity, work relationships and sense of care among members, and engagement that includes reasonable socializing and consistent interaction.
  • Take time to assess project scope and timelines, needed qualities and skills required by the project, and the work demands it will place on team members.

Fifth: As regards teams and networks, developing such a culture and climate starts with the manager stepping forward to:

a) develop a relationship with each network and/or team member;

b) stay in contact; and

c) develop avenues and expectations around socializing, communication, and collaborative interaction in the workplace.

Getting to know each other and having the time to develop professional relationships and collegial bonds is valued by the organization, part of its culture and fostered by it managers.

Sixth: There is a shift in identity from “I” to “we.” It is an inclusive work climate where it’s about team success not individual performance. All feel that they belong. All look out for and aid each other because they are committed to and care about each other and the team. Being colleagues working for the betterment of each other and the organization is intrinsic to the spirit of the workplace. Besides the leaders, each person monitors the team process and assists anyone who is struggling or needs assistance. Plus, each can speak with the team leader or any of its members if (s)he needs information, help, etc.

Seventh: The team, as a whole, needs to:

a) have a reasonably clear identity or sense of who it is and its purpose;

b) have a commitment to, and vested interest in, both the team itself and its project;

c) have an agreed-upon set of operating procedures, policies, etc. with appropriate roles to support them; and

d) have a culture grounded in a felt sense of trust, reliability, and social connection where all are valued, cared about, and take responsibility for the team’s success.

While these steps represent just a start and there are many issues yet to explore and address, they shouldhelp reintroduce a “human element or dimension” into the workplace environment, and its approach to management and its operations.

Such an approach is grounded in a conscious awareness of the social relationships that are the foundation of workplace collaboration. It builds a sense of workplace care that understands job demands and work-life integration dilemmas. Team members relate to and interact with each other as a cohesive engaged social system with daily operational processes including time and opportunities to establish and nourish workplace relationships.

To continue this conversation about collaboration and solution building about enabling and keeping organizational members communicating and engaged, consider the following questions: