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Relationship Building in the Workplace


In Stratis Consulting we support organisations to help them deal with employment relations issues, vast majority of which are collective in nature. Putting out the fires can be relatively easy but understanding how and why they ignited, and what needs to be done to minimise the risk of future fires, can be more difficult. Typically, efforts to understand the cause can be hampered due to a lack of intelligence as to what the front line staff are thinking and the reasoning behind this thinking. In addition, because we deal with senior leaders their interpretations can be influenced by the views and opinions of lower level management. Too often, organisational leaders may be attempting to analyse issues without solid evidence from the coal face based on the interpretations others have formed and based on unsubstantiated opinions.

As a side bar, it is essential in any situation we are dealing with that we do not form opinions based on the opinions of others. We should seek to establish the facts and when others present us with their opinions we should probe to establish the true basis for their opinions. Only when we have established this should we form our conclusions.

Alternatively, where senior management have a clear understanding of the thinking of their people, based on evidence, less ‘fires’ tend to ignite and issues, if they arise, tend to get sorted before anyone even notices.

So what are the fundamental differences that make the difference?

The answer to this question is dependent on where the focus is placed, tasks and results – the end, or people – the means to the end. Theory X and Y has not gone away and staff are much more educated with higher expectations about “how” they should be treated.

In organisations where fires are frequent there is often an “us and them” divide with front line management not really being in either camp. The role definitions and goals set for front line management can be very informative. Amongst some of the key issues to better understand the context include:

  • How much real emphasis and time is allocated to leading people, understanding and influencing their thinking leading to increased intrinsic motivation?

  • Do front line management really feel part of the management team and have confidence that they will always be fully backed and supported (when they make the right decision)?

Too often, front line management in organisations who regularly need support in dealing with workplace conflict are very busy doing other things/tasks and consequently will profess that they don’t have the time to lead and influence people.

Now we come to the real question posed by this paper – how important is the strength of the relationship between front line management and front line staff, the nature of the exchanges that have taken place in the past and the levels of trust that exist? This is especially important in terms of the levels of understanding, influence and motivation which are evident. And, is your organisation “walking the talk” or living its values and doing as much as they should in this area?

Some Core Building Blocks

At Stratis, we believe that the strength of the relationship between front line management and front line staff is one of the essential building blocks for sustainable success. Here are some suggested core building blocks (warning, sales pitch coming up, we can help you design, develop competencies and manage the transition!).

  1. Achieving clarity and alignment, with the leadership team, around the importance of the “People Contribution” and the type of thinking, mind sets and behaviours needed for people to want to and give their best, and in a manner which is congruent with the desired people contribution.

  2. A clear set of principles and supporting practices aimed at getting people to where they need to be to contribute in the desired manner.

  3. Leadership competencies around these practices, emotional intelligence, personal awareness, authenticity, understanding and influencing others.

  4. Having the right metrics in place that measure the degree to which you are achieving the goals and identification of the factors that will make it even better in the future.

‘Leadership’ is best defined as the impact achieved on the members of the team. A key question that must continually be asked is – “is what we are doing working (getting people to where we need them to be) and what can we do to improve it even more?”

Whatever about the detail of how each organisation tries to achieve their people contribution goals, a central theme must be the relationship and trust that exists between front line leader and front line staff. We keep coming back to this.

Structured conversations can play an essential part of the relationship.

Key elements of these conversation include:

  • A strong desire to listen and understand how people feel about the way things are done at the moment.

  • Exploring ways in which improvements can be made.

  • A strong interest in the person and their future, a demonstrated willingness to coach and assist.

  • Exploring ways of bringing more openness and honesty to the conversations.

  • Demonstrating you have listened and have acted on what you heard. Developing confidence in the process.

  • Demonstrating that you, as leader, do as you say. The belief that you can be trusted to fulfil promises and commitments is powerful.

When relationships are strong and open conversations are taking place then usually there will be no surprises. Decision making will take the views of the people more into account and the organisation can become even better in terms of leadership effectiveness.

Tests for the strength of relationships include:

  1. The line manager is the first port of call when people have queries.

  2. The line manager is trusted to look after the interests of their team.

  3. There is evidence based understanding on how and why people think the way they do.

  4. It is easy to anticipate how people will react to future decisions and this is factored into the decision making process.

  5. There is a sense of pride and belonging to the team and the organisation.

Having a committed workforce is one of the corner stones to sustaining future success. This is dependent on the strength of relationships within the organisation.

It is common sense but is it common in practice?

If you would like to talk to us about any of the above issues, please get in touch with me at or any one of our Partners.

Brendan McCarthy | Senior Partner

Stratis Consulting

‘Strategic Employment Relations’

T: +353 (0) 1 2166302

M: +353 (0) 87 2433038

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for practical guidance only and does not constitute legal or specific case advice. The answers to specific situations will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. This is not a substitute for specific professional advice relevant to individual circumstances facing your business.


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