Improve Relationships to Improve the Work

Nobody succeeds alone. Whether it's in sports, business, art or politics, the greatest achievers have one thing in common - strong relationships. It may be an inspirational mentor, a dedicated business partner, or a rock solid team. Connection and support help foster innate potential and buffer against the blows of adversity.

The same holds true for organizations. Without the glue of strong relationships, the mission and work of a company can become scattered and the big picture lost.

And contrary to what you may think, strong relationships are not all about unfailing positive support. It's about aligning rather than duplicating tasks, reducing confusion and mistakes, and delivering critiques in an empowering way that jumpstarts quality work.

Leadership manuals write about engagement and support, about balanced perspectives and the superiority of the group intellect over the intellect of one. But too often relationships are neglected in the workplace, and leadership is left scratching its head as to why so much of the work produced holds that characteristic stench of a low-quality rush job.

Perhaps it's because people don't feel respected, appreciated, or connected. Consider this - only about 32% of American employees feel engaged in their work and a mere 31% feel valued. Given that these are associated with motivation and better work, it would bode well for companies to focus on enhancing these factors.

If people don't feel like they matter, their work may not matter much either. But there are ways to improve relationships and communication within the workplace and create an environment that promotes better work. Here are 5 ways to do so and the bonus is that none of them costs a dime.

1. Show gratitude on an on-going basis

There is incredible power in the simple act of gratitude. Studies have demonstrated that it activates areas of the brain associated with the "feel good" chemical, dopamine. Maybe this is why a whopping 94% of survey participants say they like getting positive feedback for work accomplishments, and 84% thinks this gives a better understanding of a company's objectives.

Gratitude works best when it's specific (i.e. not general praise but an acknowledgement of a particular action done well), and delivered at regular intervals to maintain that feeling of goodwill. Since gratitude helps not only the one receiving it but the one giving it as well, the positive effect on the work culture is two-fold.

2. Listen, seek input, and respond

People yearn for the opportunity to express their thoughts without being interrupted or shut down. In this era of hyper multi-tasking and cell phones glued to our eyeballs, this is becoming increasingly rare. But listening is a skill that can be leveraged to establish a connection and enhance motivation.

One of the most valuable things you can do to promote a better work environment is to listen to your employees - to their ideas, challenges, pains, successes, and desires. It need not take too much time, even just giving a few moments of undivided attention may be enough to enhance trust and rapport. Additionally, through allowing someone to explore their thoughts, it may lead to insight and discovery.

3. Adjust work to fit their learning style

Nothing spells "I don't matter" like being in a workplace that treats all of its employees the same. This does no favors to your company either because if you're delivering information in a way that is confusing or misleading, the work quality is likely to suffer and you may end up wasting time correcting unnecessary mistakes.

By taking the time to inquire about learning style of employees, you're gaining critical information on how to speak to and provide information to them in a way that will increase their understanding of their duties and your expectations of them. Adjusting communication in this way may help streamline work and create a more amicable relationship with employees.

4. Connect the dots for employees

A mission statement may be prominently featured on your website and press materials, but it doesn't mean that workers are necessarily keyed into how their work promotes this mission. If employees don't understand this, they may feel disconnected or, worse, that their efforts aren't contributing in any substantial way to the company.

Taking the time to debrief employees about the overall structure of work at an organization and how their tasks contribute to the mission can help increase motivation and work quality. Plus, it helps cement them as a critical and valued member of a greater team.

5. Give space for an outside life

Consistently working without a break may yield short-term results (and even be necessary during a product or service launch) but it is not sustainable. People will get burnt out, and their motivation will take a nose-dive, which is why research has repeatedly found that working continuously leads to disengagement and poor mental and physical health.

While gym memberships, ping-pong tables, and occasional free lunches are great - one of the greatest benefits you can give your employees is work-life balance. We all have a basic human need for time away to connect with family, pursue other hobbies, and just sit back and relax. Showing employees that you respect their boundaries and acknowledge their outside life will go a long way towards establishing that connection you need for a more positive and productive work environment.