A tested approach for building good team relationships

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Closing the gap successfully.

Reflect for a moment: have you ever seen a situation where a simple disagreement between people has flared up into a bitter dispute?

If you’re like most people, your answer is probably “YES!”, and you’ll have seen this often! In a personal context, these disputes can lead to ill-feeling and feuding that lasts a lifetime. In a professional one, they can sabotage your team’s mission, or can split good teams apart.

This is why you need to manage these situations within your team. You need to defuse the negative effects of conflict before they damage your team, at the same time that you learn from and correct the underlying causes of conflict.

The problem with this is that it’s easy to believe that others are at fault where relationships turn bad, and to ignore the problems that we ourselves may be causing. This is why, while we each have the right to present our own viewpoint, we need to be equally receptive and respectful to the views of others as well.

The CONNECT Model is an elegant tool for dealing with this problem. Developed by Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson in their book, When Teams Work Best, it’s a proven approach for building and sustaining healthy relationships between the members of a team.

This approach is used to improve relationships between two members of a team, and has been tested and used by more than 5000 people in about fifteen different organizations. Before we start explaining the CONNECT Model, a small word of caution: the conversations that emerge when you use the tool may sound a little weird, and you might feel uncomfortable about using it (in practice, you may want to follow these steps informally). However, rest assured, you’ll find that this is a powerful and useful relationship improvement tool!

To improve a sour relationship, follow these steps:

  1. Commit to the Relationship: This is where the people experiencing relationship difficulties commit to one-another to talk about how they will improve the relationship between them.
    Here, you would invite the other person to talk using the CONNECT approach. Assuming some level of goodwill, the other person should agree to take part in the conversation – this gives a measure of commitment from both sides to improve the relationship. When you are both ready to talk, explain to one-another why you think it is important to give the relationship a try, what is it worth to each of you, and why you are both willing to put effort into it.
  2. Optimize Safety: Next, create a feeling of safety for each other. Tell each other, in so many words, that you will do your best to not put each other on the defensive, and that you will make an effort to be more open to understanding and appreciating each other’s views. You might feel a little awkward in talking to each other in this manner, but once safety is established, the rest of the process becomes easier to manage.
  3. Narrow Down to One Issue: Now that the stage is set, you can identify the real issue that brought you to loggerheads with each other. Remember, you should conduct this discussion in the same manner as you would conduct conversations in a meeting. Communicate on an adult level, treat each other with respect, give out all of the necessary information, seek participation from each other, and so on. Also, remember to use a lot of “we” instead of “I” in your conversation: this will reiterate the fact that you are both in this discussion because you are part of a team, and team’s interest should not suffer because the two of you are not on the best of terms with one another.
  4. Neutralize Defensiveness: In your preparation for the conversation, try to come up with a list of words, phrases, or comments, which could put the other person on the defensive. Avoid these when you talk. Also, when you begin the conversation, ask the other person if any of your actions or words in the past have upset him or her, and avoid these when you talk. In the same way, explain to the other person how his or her behaviors have put you on the defensive in the past. The idea here is that you should both avoid doing and saying things that upset the other person, so that you can discuss the issue as constructively as possible.
  5. Explain and Echo: Also in your preparation, think carefully about what you think caused the problem. Then, when you reach this stage, explain to the other person your observations, say how you felt about this, and describe any long-term impact that may result, or may have resulted. Once you have explained this, ask the other person to “echo” what you have just said, which means that he or she needs to rephrase what you just stated from his or her understanding. Once the other person has done this, ask for his or her perspective on the issue, and echo this perspective yourself. This will help you both understand one another’s viewpoint while, at the same time, promoting mutual understanding.
  6. Change One Behavior Each: Now that you have both understand one another, it’s time for action. Discuss how you want to move forward with things now. What improvements are required? Choose one of these each, put your egos aside, and work to resolve these for the interest of your team.
  7. Track It: Once you’ve made commitments, it’s time to honor them, and this step is focused on tracking the commitments. Set a future date to meet with one another to discuss how things are going, and see if you can improve things still further.

By going through this exercise, you’ll find that this effort has helped:

  • Bring rationality to the situation: Since this approach asks participants to be well prepared for the CONNECT conversation, it gives people the time and space they need to think calmly about the situation.
  • Bring issues out into the open: CONNECT helps you bring emotive issues out into clear sight in a controlled way, so that these can be addressed.
  • Promote team spirit and mutual accountability: As team members resolve issues that previously disrupted their working relationship, this helps you improve the team climate.

Next time you run into a serious conflict, whether at work or at home, try using CONNECT. It’s a great way of helping people to be happier – and of boosting teamwork at the same time!

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Comments
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