The Task of Relations

Within the hectic pace and unswerving results focus of our working lives in organisations today, it can sometimes seem like we’ll have achieved if we can just survive, get to the end of the day/week and recharge ready for another swirl in the mixer. We are so used to relying on ourselves to make it happen, get it done, have it ready, that it’s easy to deprioritise the others around us. We feel too time-poor to feed our connections on a human level, and we may therefore miss out on the support that can bring us.

In work teams (e.g. project or leadership teams) too, the focus is usually on task behaviours – proposing ideas for how to do it, gathering data for decision making, coordinating the process, motivating to get it done, and evaluating outcomes. Absolutely, these are ultra-important in order to achieve, but the research literature (Benne & Sheats, 1948) argues that another distinctive set of behaviours are required for a team to be fully effective and so achieve earlier.

These social behaviours include items such as shifting positions to manage conflict, encouraging contributions, showing acceptance of ideas, observing the group process, evaluating interaction quality and facilitating communications. Benne & Sheats (1948) confirm that these behaviours are especially required in the early forming stages of the team. In addition, these skills will be called on at times of higher group stress, e.g. when the market dips, or when a competitive supply situation develops, and the team has to react. With these behaviours not having been taught in school, it is often a process of luck whether team leaders and members are skilled enough in, and value them enough, to bring them effectively into the group.

A team with good social behaviours will build healthy social relations and therefore strong trust. It can also proceed with, and achieve more effectively on required tasks, using this relational bedrock as a sturdy platform. Accomplishing the right balance between task and social behaviours is vital – a technical team will find it cannot adequately use its technical expertise without continually re-establishing this balance.  The first sign that a team is off balance is often when emotions or personality conflicts become disruptive to their task process. At this point, the group needs to allocate some time reaffirming its relational process, and it will be time well spent!

If a group improves its social relations, its cohesiveness (strength of interpersonal bonds – Beal et al 2003) will also build, and as a result of simultaneous focus on task, performance will increase, which will turn also enhance cohesion. Beal et al (2003) show that cohesion can especially drive performance when the team task requires high levels of interaction. Wech et al (1998) demonstrate that cohesion can be increased by training in social interaction skills, and by the leader facilitating productive interactions between members.

If we can just create some space in our minds to be reminded of the importance of social relations, perhaps we might allocate more time to re-energise our connections with those important to us – at work or at home! Taking time to talk, listening well, replaying back your understanding, supporting perspectives, noticing what you think & feel, and making the effort to bring it into the discussion. The task of relations is actually a highly productive investment in our ‘work’ task, and will repay many times over in terms of results.