Building Relationships in Business

We hear a lot about effective stakeholder management and the need to network in order to achieve desired business outcomes. With so much information on the subject, just doing another blog on the same is unlikely to provide new insight. However, we also know that a common cause of failure in organisations is down to relationships and the breakdown of communication that emanates from that. With that in mind, John shares his insight into the value of building relationships in business…

Why is building relationships in business so important?

In simple terms, it is about trust and feeling comfortable the job will get done. No person can do their job or achieve success without the help and contribution of others. Both in our personal lives and at work we all have experiences where relationships had a wider impact on both ourselves and the other party/parties. It’s part of being human that we prefer to spend time and work with people we feel more at ease with. It can also make us more productive, be a source of energy, innovation, and even identity. Even small things make a difference. For example, we don’t have to worry as much about being misinterpreted or padding up emails with lots of niceties. We trust that people know what we mean. And our personal experience is backed up with research which shows “managers are significantly less stressed when they have solid relationships with employees—and employee satisfaction increases nearly 50% when a worker develops close relationships at work.”

Why do relationships go wrong?

So if we all know this, why do relationships go wrong? Focusing on the workplace, the most common root causes of relationship breakdowns include:

  • misaligned values and/or objectives
  • overlapping or conflicting responsibilities
  • natural personality clashes
  • and resistance to change.


These are then often fuelled by judging the other that naturally takes hold and is perhaps the main cause of workplace conflict.

When relationships go wrong, the growing tension can end up harming both individuals and organisations with failed outcomes. These can have consequences far beyond those directly involved in the first place. That’s why it is important to be able to manage and rebound from conflicts quickly. And even better -to avoid a conflict taking root in the first place.

Is conflict unavoidable?

The bringing together of new teams through natural recruitment, reorganisation or just changing shift work patterns, means that it is normal for people with different outlooks and experiences to be coming together for work purposes. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development, made memorable through the phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing”, describes the journey teams take towards high performance.

Though this research is from 1965, the underlying validity based on human psychology holds across cultures and organisations. The key is whether a team of people can be honest about their differences and willing to overcome them in order to achieve a greater outcome. Facing a possible conflict is therefore not the issue, but our ability to work things through and build relationships is. The response of all participating parties will determine the outcome here – relationships are the result of multiple ‘two-way interlinking streets’.

The 7 ingredients to strong relationships

Building strong working relationships requires a combination of method and humanity, or call it hard and soft skills. Greater responsibility must be taken by the leaders in the situation. Simply because leaders have more influence over the working environment than employees. However, irrespective of our position, the same key factors hold true:

1. Apply method – Review and align on values, objectives, and responsibilities

Don’t assume that the objectives or responsibilities handed over to you fit well with that of others you have to work with. Take time to reach a common understanding of what the values, objectives, and roles & responsibilities are. Any misalignment needs to be pointed out and addressed through collaborative working and discussion. The earlier this is done, at the forming stage of a relationship – the better. It avoids the possibility of misunderstanding emerging from unintentional misalignment.

2. Apply humanity – Show respect, empathy, compassion, and inclusion

We all have something to contribute and whatever it may be, it plays its part in success – leave out a single bolt from an engine and see how long it will work. This has been immortalised through the NASA janitor story where in 1962, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA for the first time. During his visit, he met a janitor who was carrying a broom down the hallway and the President casually asked him what he did for NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Treating each other with respect and recognition; identifying with the challenges each of us face, including people from across the organisation in ideas and problem solving; and showing understanding and flexibility by putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, all play their part in creating a strong connected community and breaking down barriers, which contributes to improving wellbeing, productivity, and innovation.

3. Apply transparency – Be open and share issues, their resolution, and a joint journey forward

Create an environment where people are at ease to raise issues. Let them be honest about them as well as contributing to their resolution. This way all stakeholders become your eyes and ears and by participating in issue resolution. They are more likely to feel valued and engaged. This also helps to further align on objectives and even create shared relationship goals. This results in a shared journey forward to bring teams along as well.

4. Focus on the positive – Everyone needs good news to spur them on

Celebrate successes early, starting with the little things if you must highlight the strengths and the value of different contributors. All this creates a positive environment that people will want to be associated with and with recognition of contribution comes to a sense of joint identification with the objectives and outcomes as well as a boost to energy levels to tackle the next challenge constructively and together.

And there is no surprise that “positive emotions improve immune system responses” and people who experience greater positivity “have a cognitive advantage by generating more creative and flexible ideas, as well as solutions, and integrating information more effectively leading to better decision-making”.

5. Recognise difference – Value and accommodate diversity as a generator of innovation

Many of us will have been involved in team-building exercises that highlight different personality types such as Myers-Briggs, Insights, and Lumina Teams, to name a few. It is surprising how often after the classroom sessions are finished people forget about the practical application. Taking time to understand where people you work with might be as personalities can help you find better ways to interact and engage.

And by building teams that have a mix of personalities and not recruiting in ‘one’s own image’ will result in more rounded and higher performing teams that far outweighs the additional work required at the start to mould the diverse group into a unified team.

6. Apply agility – Go beyond the methods to planned improvisation

At the end of the day, irrespective of what best practice says, achieving outcomes requires working with a large number of people which in turn requires finding common ground and common motivators. By understanding the situation, approaches can be improvised, timescales adjusted, and objectives refined.

It takes planning to establish the improvisation that will be effective in building bridges between different positions and where a compromise will yield the greatest value. Just sticking to ones’ position because ‘it is right’ is not a strategy that is likely to achieve the desired outcome. In fact, it can break relationships where they have been working already. The value equation is clear – achieving 80% of the required outcome with 20% of the effort, provides a far greater return than trying to achieve a level of perfection according to one’s own standards that may not even be sustainable.

7. Build Trust – the foundation of collaboration, communication, and high performance

Trust forms the foundation upon which relationships are built. Without trust, even the most effective communications will be doubted and misconstrued and people are unlikely to want to share, work together, and collaborate. Without collaboration and effective communication, things take longer to be done which erodes performance.

As reported by Harvard Business Review in Jan-Feb 2017 edition, people at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • and 40% less burnout.


And when you have to work with a large number of people the best way is to start by showing trust to others first and this can be done by showing confidence in others, giving people the space to learn from their mistakes, being comfortable with sharing failures as much as sharing successes, being honest about what works and what doesn’t, showing your vulnerabilities – who you are as a person which is especially important for leaders to make them relatable to the people they lead.

Accelerating relationship building, where there is no luxury of taking time 

We all know that building relationships takes time. But how do you gain trust quickly when there is only a short timeframe to get things done? Are there quick wins? The reality is that by applying the 7 ingredients consistently, it becomes your way of life which people pick up on quickly. And by adding one 8th ingredient you can help accele8 your relationship building: Listen and help people with their issues where you can.

Extending one’s helping hand is a sure way of building bridges and trust. By bringing a team together that displays these same values you can spread the workload of engaging and managing wider stakeholder groups, thereby building relationships far beyond one’s individual reach, the power of working as a team.


Building relationships in business is fundamental to creating a positive working environment. This is required for building a sustainable, productive, high-performance, and innovative organisation. This leads to the energy, frankness, and flexibility needed to tackle the ever-changing competitive market landscape.

And at a time of increased challenges in business and on individuals because of the need to adapt and change as a result of the continued Covid Crisis and the outcomes of the new Brexit deal on trading in goods and services, the need to build strong and effective working relationships quickly has never been more important.

If you’d like to know how we can support building relationships within your organisation to improve efficiency, get in touch.



About the Author
A Change and Programme Management professional with international experience in business transformation, from strategy definition to implementation and covering all dimensions of change: sourcing, contracts, policy, process, IT, infrastructure, behavioural, organisational. John is a Fellow of the Institute of Consulting, a Change Management Practitioner, and MBA qualified who has delivered change and integration of customer facing, commercial, operational and back office capabilities in various organisations.

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