Work Effectively with Others
Working relationships can be fragile- especially in the workplace where they are often built and destroyed by the actions we take. Building healthy, secure and harmonious relationships is important not only to us personally, but also to underpin the success of the organisation we work for. We need to build effective relationships for a number of reasons:
- The health of people depends on what happens in organisations and what they do. Overwork, stress, being subjected to harassment or bullying all impact on a person’s health and therefore on their ability to fulfil their role within the organisation. Staff who are stressed make mistakes costing the organisation time, effort, money and reputation.
- Organisations only function with the co-operation of their members – staff are at the coal face of the organisation, fulfilling all the functions necessary to ensure success. If there is disharmony in the workplace, this can impact negatively on the organisation’s success.
- Organisations can have a profound effect on people that do not work for them but who depend on them for the necessities of life – for example, food, housing and clean water. Well run harmonious organisations are, normally, stable and therefore also offer a stable environment to their staff and all the people who depend on them. Society is a web of relationships, requiring all parties to work together in order to create something that is good. But what makes society work even better are relationships that are positive, co-operative and respectful. In this way everyone works for the good of the whole and towards a common purpose. This demands effective relationships based on mutual understanding. If you understand what people want and why they want it, you can usually find a way to make progress together.
What Is an Effective Relationship?
Building an effective relationship means listening to understand someone else’s positions and feelings. The simplest way to understand what is important to another person or to a group is to ask, then listen to the answer. We all know when someone else is really interested in us; the other person is attentive, does not interrupt, does not fidget and does not speak about him or herself. This gives us time to think and feel accepted, rather than feel we are being judged.
Building an effective relationship means openly expressing your position and feelings. Sometimes we expect people to understand what we want and to give us what we need intuitively. This is not a realistic standpoint. We need to say what we need and to express how we feel. By doing this we are more likely to get what we want, rather than expecting someone to notice what we want, then waiting for that person to give it to us and getting upset when it doesn’t happen.
In order to make relationships more effective, we should treat ourselves and each other with respect. Respect is the core of any good relationship. You can respect people (even if you find their behaviour difficult to understand) by acknowledging that they are doing the best they can when their circumstances and history are taken into account.
Developing Effective Workplace Relationships
Building effective workplace relationships begins with understanding your own role and how it contributes to the organisation’s overall plans and objectives. Your own role is, largely, defined by your job description and information in the organisation’s staff handbook (if available). These documents outline:
- the organisation’s code of conduct – the behavioural standards and ethics the organisation expects of you
- the duties and confidentiality issues that relate to your job.
- the legal obligations you must comply with
- exactly what tasks your role entails who you report to:
- levels of supervision and accountability in your role
- the team structure
- how your department fits within the rest of the organisation
- the skills, training & competence you are expected bring with you to the role and what you may be required to learn in terms of ongoing professional development (PD) training
Your Impact on the Organisation
No one in an organisation, works in complete isolation. You will work with colleagues and supervisors in your own department. You may work with other departments as a member of a committee or team. In any case, it is important to understand how your role fits into the departmental and/or organisational picture. The duties you perform may represent an important step in an organisation’s procedures or processes, or, they may be part of a larger task or project working with others – all contributing towards getting a specific task done. You may all be working on the task or project simultaneously or each person may need to complete their part, so that the next person can complete theirs. So you must be aware of who relies on you to get your work done so that they can complete their own tasks.
You will also need to be aware of the timeframes in which you need to complete your tasks. Holding the work up could cost the company its customers, revenue and/or reputation. A successful organisation should run like a well oiled machine with each cog turning in sync with the others so that it meshes with the machinery as a whole. Broken cogs can damage the machinery just as inefficient work practices and team work can damage the organisation.
Working With Others
Dealing with the people you work with is not very different from dealing with customers. We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect and expect cooperation from the people we work with.
When working together in an organisation, one thought should be uppermost at all times; you are all working to achieve the same goal – to serve the customers and make money for your company. To this end, it is desirable to achieve a sense of harmony and team spirit. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you work with, but you can develop a rapport with them and you can create a team spirit. This can be done by developing a trusting relationship with your colleagues. There will be times when you must rely on them (and vice versa) to complete a task for you and you will need to trust them to do this properly.
To bring about this trust:
- always carry out the tasks you are assigned to do and follow up on anything that you have outstanding.
- if a colleague asks you for help, and you are in a position to give it, do so. You may be in need of help yourself at some time and people will remember your assistance to them.
- don’t leave things undone, particularly if you are going on leave or expect to be away from your workplace on business. Leaving work unfinished could put your colleagues in embarrassing situations when customers request information. If you are unable to complete a task before going away, brief one of your colleagues on its current status and ask them to keep an eye on it, or leave a brief explanation of what is happening in the customer’s file.
- communicate! Listen to what your colleagues have to say and discuss any problems that crop up. Jointly found solutions tend to last longer and find greater support from all staff.
A willingness to support each other is also important – you should all be working towards the same goal. In many cases today staff pay is based on performance – the more you sell or the better you perform, the more you will be paid. This brings with it a culture of competition with your colleagues and this is not altogether a bad thing. It can be detrimental, however, if it is taken too far and help is denied a colleague due to jealousy and competitiveness. All of us need a helping hand at some time and the good of the whole should always be considered.
Supporting team members can include:
- explaining or clarifying tasks, procedures and structure to new team members.
- helping colleagues when they have too much to do or they have special projects to complete and you happen to have some spare time.
- helping in problem solving – especially if the problem affects your own job or department
- providing encouragement and positive reinforcement to other colleagues
- providing feedback about performance or customer comments to other colleagues
- undertaking extra tasks if necessary to help get task done.
Sharing information about new trends and recent product or service experiences with other staff members enriches the pool of information the entire staff has to draw from. Customers will never cease to amaze you with the requests and demands they make. You cannot possibly know everything there is to know about everything! Synergy within the workplace can often reveal ‘just the thing’ you need. Synergy, in simple terms, means that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. In a business sense, this means that teamwork will produce an much better result than if each person in the organisation was working toward the same goal individually
Sharing information also means giving feedback and discussing opportunities to improve work efficiency. This could be done by way of:
- formal and/or informal performance appraisals with supervisors and managers
- formal and/or informal discussions with colleagues about work related issues.
- These should be of a positive and constructive nature rather than centred around gossip and undermining to the organisation
- personal reflection – thinking about the way you or a colleague handled a situation or particular work methods and ways of improving.
- routine organisational methods for monitoring service delivery such as surveys & focus sessions
Working in Teams
When working for a larger organisation it may sometimes be necessary to form formal working teams. This might be;
- to achieve a goal
- to act as a committee
- to develop a program
- to complete a large task and so on
Forming a team is not just a simple matter of getting a group of people together and ‘going for it’. Care needs to be exercised, so that the team’s goals can be met properly and on time. Members of the team should be chosen for their strengths, network of contacts and the talents they can bring to the team – qualities that can assist in getting the job done.
Building Team Dynamics
Achieving a goal successfully will depend a great deal on the dynamics of the team; on motivation and willingness to move the project forward. Team building works best when;
- there is a high level of interdependence among team members. The team is working on important tasks in which each member is committed to the ultimate goal and teamwork is critical in achieving this goal.
- the team leader has high level communication and interpersonal skills.
- each team member is capable and willing to contribute information, experience and skills, without thought of personal gratification, in order to achieve the team’s goal.
- the team generates an atmosphere in which all members feel relaxed and can communicate openly.
- team members develop a feeling mutual trust and equality.
- team members are encouraged to develop their abilities and skills.
- the team has the ability to generate new ideas through group interaction. Good ideas are followed up and people rewarded for their innovation.
- team members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities as well as expectations of and within the group
- team members jointly determine the way they are going to work together as a team and what they want to happen. When individuals and the entire team choose to operate in this way and are willing to set petty differences aside, outstanding results become possible.
When individuals adopt this attitude and commit to using their resources, knowledge and skills to contribute to the goals of the team, alignment with the team’s overall purpose comes about. This will not happen unless both the team leader and team members choose to do so.
Having a well defined purpose or vision of what the team will accomplish is a very powerful force for the team leader and members. Goals are aligned with the team purpose, and team members are empowered to accomplish the goals. This process leads to a high level of team productivity. If people learn to focus simultaneously on both the current situation and the desired results, problems that arise will be solved as part of the total process of achieving the desired results. Team members have a strong feeling of control within the team and they are able to establish priorities and then commit time and resources to accomplishing these tasks.
When team resources are fully focused and team members are all working to towards accomplishing the same goal, teamwork can be very rewarding and more importantly very productive. Using a proactive rather than reactive approach to all tasks is a contributing factor. This means that the team looks ahead and finds ideas and creative ways to move forward rather than waiting for something to happen and then reacting to it.
When working toward a goal in a team environment there are a number of things that need to happen to ensure success. Once the team members have been chosen and goal to be achieved has been defined in detail the next steps are to;
- Identify the individual tasks that need to be completed. These will be the steps you need to take to complete the overall goal. Some goals are too big to handle all at once. By breaking the overall goal down into individual, easy to manage tasks, it will be easier to achieve. This is often referred to as “chunking”. There may be a number of tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve a specific goal. It is important to prioritise tasks early in the project so that things are done in the correct order. For example when producing a national advertising campaign there is no point in producing a proposal for the client until all advertising components have been sourced, costed and put into place. The order in which things are done is very important as, often, one task cannot be started or completed until the previous one is in place.
- Determine the time frame and the standard in which these tasks need to be completed. There will always be a deadline by which the overall goal needs to be completed. So each individual task also needs a timeframe in order for all the pieces to fall in to place correctly and on time. Once again the order tasks are completed in is important. If step one in the process is not completed on time it will hold up the next steps and the whole project is then in jeopardy of not being completed on time.
- Designate tasks to individual members of the team according to their strengths. Each member of the team was chosen for their strengths and talents – make use of them and delegate tasks that they have experience and expertise in.
- Monitor the work progress. This is very important. Timeframes need to be kept to, so that the project doesn’t fall behind schedule. To avoid this, the team should meet at regular intervals to check on progress.
- Seek and offer assistance when required. If a member of the team is having difficulty, help them! Equally if you, as a team member, recognise that you are having difficulty – ask for help. The team goal is to complete the project as quickly, efficiently and as cost effectively as possible and assistance should be given where needed. Often other team members will have personal knowledge that can help you or, alternatively, they may have within their network of contacts someone who can assist with the task. Where necessary negotiate a change in tasks with individual team members who are not able to complete their assigned tasks.
- Feedback information on the task progress. Meetings should be held at regular intervals to let other team members know how the work is progressing;
- Is the work on track?
- Does anyone need assistance?
- Are there any problems that need to be dealt with?
- How are the individual tasks or components fitting together?
- What, if any, adjustments need to be made?
Even though a team may have been formed, much of the actual work will be done on an individual basis. So how is the project controlled and its overall progress monitored?
A team leader is needed. Leadership is a process by which a person influences others in the team to accomplish an objective. A team leader’s aim is to direct the group in a way that makes it more effective and efficient. This process is carried applying leadership attributes -beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge and skills.
Often this person will be appointed by the employer or is sometimes elected by the team. However the leader is chosen, this person is usually responsible for keeping things moving. The team leader is not necessarily the ‘boss’, but does have a greater responsibility to:
- make sure tasks are completed properly
- make sure tasks are completed on time
- deal with problems
- deal with personality clashes and conflicts.
One thing a good leader typically does is to communicate the big picture so that each member of the team can see how their particular role makes a contribution to the final result. When a team member understands why a job that might be considered menial is important, that person is likely to be more committed and more productive.
Principles of Leadership
Here are some of the principles involved in developing good leadership skills.
- Be technically proficient – as a leader you must know your own job very well and be familiar with other team members roles so that you are in a position to offer advice and recommend action.
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions – look for ways to guide your team to new heights. When things go wrong, don’t put the blame on others: look at the situation, take corrective action and move on to the next task.
- Make sound and timely decisions – use good problem-solving, decision-making and planning skills.
- Set an example for the people in your team – be a good role model. They must not only hear what they are expected to do, but also see how they are expected to behave.
- Keep the team informed – know how to communicate with them.
- Develop a sense of responsibility in your team – help them to develop good character traits that will enable them to carry out their task with professionalism.
- Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished – if the team are fully informed about what they are supposed to do, they are more likely to do the work efficiently and quickly, knowing the importance of the task to the organisation’s overall objectives.
Dealing With Personalities in a Team
No two people are the same. No two people will look at a task and see the same solution. When dealing with people in a team or group environment, we need to keep this in mind and accept people as they are.
Have you ever been to a meeting that lasted for hours and, at the very end, when the chairperson asks for any last comments (everyone is already packing up) one little voice says ‘Yes, I have one more thing… ‘ (groan). Or what about a team project – everyone is totally enthusiastic, comments and ideas are flowing freely but there is the one voice that says, ‘Yes, but… ‘ or ‘I don’t think that will work… ‘
Who needs people like this on a team?
The answer is very simple – you do! Imagine how it would be if a team consisted solely of enthusiastic ‘ideas’ people – what do you suppose would happen? You would end up with a fabulous project that had every possible refinement and you would be thousands of dollars over budget. We need to have the ‘Yes, but… ‘ people to keep the team’s feet firmly on the ground, to keep it realistic, to point out potential problems and pitfalls and to make the team think. People work in different ways and a great deal of research has been done on ‘personality types’ that influence the way they behave. Some examples of these are discussed in Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, or the DISC Personality Profiles. The DISC personality system is considered to be a ‘universal’ language of behaviour. These behavioural characteristics are grouped together into for major divisions called personality styles. They are:
- Dominance: Direct and Decisive. These people tend to be independent and results driven. They are strong-willed people who enjoy challenges, taking action, and immediate results. The bottom line is their focus tends to be on the bottom line and results.
- Influence: Outgoing and Optimistic. These individuals tend to be very social and out going. They prefer participating on teams, sharing thoughts, and entertaining and energizing others.
- Steadiness: Stability and Status Quo. These people tend to be your team players and are supportive, cooperative and helpful to others. They prefer being behind the scene, working in consistent and predictable ways. They are often good listeners and avoid change and conflict
- Conscientiousness: Cautious. These people are often focused on details and quality. They plan ahead, constantly check for accuracy, and what to know “how” and “why”.
Dealing With Issues, Problems and Conflict
Conflict between colleagues has the potential to completely disrupt the workplace and the team spirit. Conflict in the workplace is corrosive and if left unchecked it can weaken an organisation and perhaps even destroy it. To prevent what may start out to be a relatively minor issue from escalating into a major one, conflict situations need to be identified and dealt with.
Good conflict resolution skills include a willingness to meet the needs of others.. The issues involved in the situation must certainly be discussed and addressed but what about a person’s human needs – the need, for example, to be a recognised and valued member of the team. These are important aspects of dealing with conflict situations and require good communication skills.
Causes of workplace conflict may include:
- poor communication
- lack of information
- changes to practices and procedures
- cultural misunderstandings
- colleagues vying for power
- staff dissatisfied with management
- weak leadership or change of leadership
- lack of empathy from colleagues or supervisors
- general complaints that are not dealt with
All of these issues can cause dissatisfaction and a lowering of staff morale. If acted upon sensitively and quickly they can be resolved without any disruption to work.
As mentioned above, if they are ignored then what may have started out as minor problems have the ability to completely break down the harmony within the work force. This in turn can affect an organisation’s productivity as staff de-motivated. Poor productivity affects the organisations revenue earnings and this could result, in the extreme cases, in the downfall of the business.
Dealing With Workplace Conflict
Should you find yourself in conflict with a colleague, or you are aware of general dissatisfaction, here are some steps to help calm and resolve the situation;
- Avoid jumping to conclusions. Let the other person have their say, without interrupting or imposing your own thoughts or ideas on them.
- Find some common ground with the other person. Look for something you can agree on. This will keep the process on a positive footing.
- Make sure you keep only to the facts and don’t let your emotions get in the way. Allowing emotions to surface can often breakdown the communications process, as tempers heat up and become agitated.
- Avoid placing blame. During a conflict resolution, determining who’s right or wrong or who’s at fault is not what you’re trying to do. A problem exists, what you are trying to do is to find a solution to the problem that will be satisfactory to all persons concerned. Finding someone to blame is not going to resolve the situation.
- Consider cultural differences. Perhaps the conflict has arisen due to a misunderstanding over different beliefs or customs. In this case an effort could be made to gain this understanding and perhaps even learn something new.
- Check to see if anything has been left unsaid. Issues, even minor ones, that have not been dealt with, or that have not been resolved satisfactorily can fester and spring up again without warning. A situation that you thought was resolved – is therefore not! Ask questions to be sure. For example: ‘From what I have heard, I believe that the main issue of your concern is based on what we have just discussed. Having gone over this issue with you, how do you feel about the situation now?’ In doing this, we check to make sure that the other person is satisfied with the resolution, or if there are still issues that need to be addressed.
- Show the other person courtesy and respect – allowing them to state their case without interruption or interference.
- If you cannot resolve the situation then a third party like a supervisor or manager might need to be consulted.
In any situation, but particularly in the workplace, it is important to respect differences in other people, to learn from each other and to recognise that everyone entitled to their own thoughts and opinions and that they all have something to contribute.
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