Tips for building better relationships at work

Do you prioritise operations and results or people and relationships at work? One of the biggest challenges for managers today is balancing both sides of the coin. It’s a real dilemma. A manager has deadlines to meet and targets to hit, but investing in relationships with the team members who deliver for them is equally important. 

From our experience at HumanForce consulting, we’ve found that managers have been focussing more on operations and results recently and neglecting relationships with their team members. The pressures of the modern business world are very real and we see people get so caught up in delivering results that it’s their only focus. They forget to prioritise their people. 

What’s Going On?

We hear this all the time. “I just don’t have the time to dedicate to my team because I am under so much pressure to deliver results. My own management has expectations and my hands are tied.”

This is such a common mindset. The problem with it is that it’s not sustainable – you will only deliver long-term with the help of your people. If you live in this constant state of results-driven urgency, eventually you and your team members will run out of steam. Consistent results come from leading your people properly. 

As a manager, soft skills are important to create trust in your teams. You want people to feel that they can take risks and adapt to change. They need to know that you are investing in them to stay motivated. 

Millennials in particular want to work for managers who are relationship driven. They need to belong, be understood, and feel valued. Leaders are going to have to adapt to this new generation of workers coming through who are looking for real purpose in their work. 

It’s About Balance

The research shows that it’s no good to be just a results-driven manager or a people person. You need to find a balance to be a good leader. 

In a survey of over 60,000 employees, James Zenger looked at “results-focus” and “people-focus” characteristics to see which made leaders great in the eyes of their employees. The answer was neither. 
Leaders who primarily focused on results were seen as great just 14% of the time, and leaders who primarily focused on people were seen as great only 12% of the time. However, leaders who were able to balance their approach and focus equally on results and people (which, according to a study by David Rock, is less than 1% of all leaders) were seen as great 72% of the time. 

In other words, results-focus and people-focus are weak predictors of great leadership on their own. It’s the potent combination of the two that consistently makes leaders great.

In a HBR blog article, Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?, Matthew Lieberman writes, “our brains have made it difficult to be both socially and analytically focused at the same time… In the frontal lobe, regions on the outer surface, closer to the skull, are responsible for analytical thinking and are highly related to IQ.  In contrast, regions in the middle of the brain, where the two hemispheres touch, support social thinking.” 

He goes on to say, “These two networks function like a neural seesaw. In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got more active, the more the other one got quieter.  Although there are some exceptions, in general, engaging in one of the kinds of thinking makes it harder to engage in the other kind.”

How can we do better? 

First you need to identify whether you are someone who focuses more on results or relationships. It shouldn’t be too difficult to work out. Once you know your preference, you can start to work on finding a better balance and become more mindful day to day, as well as encourage others to do the same. As Matthew Lieberman says, “we need to create a culture that rewards using both sides of the neural seesaw.”

Recognise and Praise:

This is hugely important and it’s something few people know how to do well. People want to be appreciated. It’s a human need. There’s day-to-day recognition, which simply involves acknowledgement – saying hello, checking in, asking how people are, etc. Then there’s earned recognition, which involves thanking people specifically for what they’ve done (there are some useful recognition tips in this article). 

Be present:

In the modern world, managers can often be out in meetings, travelling, or working remotely in virtual teams. If you can’t be physically present, use technology to find ways to make sure that you maintain a presence and visibility. Consider socialising, going out for coffee and lunch, finding out what’s going on with the team, and celebrating achievements. 

Foster Inclusivity:

Including the team on important decisions helps them feel valued and important. Making the work a team effort instead of carrying everything on your own shoulders is not only better for your mental health, it creates a collaborative atmosphere where trust is a key motivator. 

Ask Difficult Questions:

Is the work getting done without your intervention? If the answer is yes, great! In that case you can focus on motivating your team and making them feel valued to improve their results. If it’s no, it’s time to assess the barriers to performance and put in the work to help them improve. 

Share Information:

Are you someone who gives instruction without explaining the reasons for your request? You will get better results from your teams if they feel included in the process, and if they understand the reasons they are being asked to do something. Be open and share as much as you can about the task at hand. 
So I’ll ask again: do you prioritise operations and results or people and relationships at work? Are you willing to try and strike a better balance between the two? I’d love to hear from you if this article has encouraged you to re-assess your approach. 

At HumanForce consulting, we help individuals and companies to work smarter, be more productive, build resilience, and become mentally agile. Are you interested in learning more? Please email