Develop creative ideas for building bonds among your team members

In nearly every area of life, the most successful teams are the ones whose members communicate frequently and effectively, enjoy working together, and maintain focus on top priorities and goals. Rapport is the cohesive glue that pulls this all together.

At its most basic level, rapport means relationships defined by mutual trust, harmony, and affinity. Strong rapport is particularly crucial when your organization is preparing for a change initiative.

As a leader, there is much you can do to build rapport; your team cannot thrive on data and rational thought alone. Genuine relationships undergird every organizational process. Start with the assumption that each person on your team wants to be included in decisions that will affect them. It’s a basic human desire — and a basic tenet of respectful, adult interactions. We don’t like things imposed on us, and we don’t like unexpected surprises. Your team members don’t like it either.

When an organization undergoes a major change, people’s energy is naturally dissipated. People often will fight change simply because they don’t want to expend the necessary effort to deal with it. I recently was given a new refrigerator, but I didn’t want to do the work of moving it into the kitchen — I just wanted it to magically appear. People are naturally resistant to change, even when the change is ostensibly welcomed and good. It’s amazing all the ways we find to resist it. The best resource for understanding this is Immunity to Change, written by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

So, how do we involve and engage people who are affected by change? How can we build rapport? The key is to actively look for ways to create involvement. Here are two suggestions on building rapport among your team members.

1) Build team rapport through storytelling
I have witnessed the power of team members listening to stories about challenges their leaders have experienced in their own lives. Stories help leaders build rapport by revealing their own vulnerable, all-too-human dimension. “This was the challenge, this is why I was so afraid, this is what happened, and this is the lesson I learned.”

When leaders share their stories, it helps others open up to their own. In my years working with teams all over the world, the most poignant moments have been in the midst of people sharing their stories: listening to how people of all walks have overcome daunting circumstances, dealt with the tender uncertainty of parenthood, recalled humorous memories of screw-ups. Laughter and tears — everyone equally human and vulnerable and connected.

When you share and hear stories, you establish a point of harmony, natural affinity and empathy. Your colleagues can relate to what you experienced, they can learn from your lesson, and they can see you as someone who’s real. You have trusted them with your story; now they can trust you more, as well.

An easy place to start is to use stories to let them know why you’re committed to the work of the team and to the good you think you are all capable of. Tell them what they can count on from you and what you need from them. Let them know what you’re committed to doing. And if it’s sincere, let them know you’re committed to each of them in the process. If this comes from the heart, they will hear more than just your words.

2) Build team rapport through shared experiences
In my work as a facilitator, I make it a point to have groups engage in problem-solving activities and shared experiences. It becomes a gateway to knowing and understanding each other better. And with that, working better together naturally follows.

As a leader, you can create opportunities for frequent, close interaction. With deliberate attention, you can expand the scenarios where people innovate, explore issues, make decisions, and build solutions together. By tending the process of how your team is working together (as well as monitoring the content of what they’re trying to accomplish), you begin seeing what is working and what is getting in the way.

Much of my work involves helping leaders become better process observers of their own team. This is harder than it sounds. It’s easy for attention to be swept along by the content of the situation. This is one of the values of working with a skilled facilitator — someone who can tend the team process, coach you to observe more effectively, and guide you and your team through the many layers inherent to organizational change.

Nonetheless, with a bit of effort, you can create frequent opportunities for informal storytelling and shared experiences with your team. You’ll open the door to a new level of rapport, build trust, and in turn, enhance your team’s performance.

Lori Brewer Collins is owner and managing principal of Artemis Leadership Group, a firm that focuses on leadership and organizational development, executive coaching and team facilitation. Collins’ background includes the Center for Creative Leadership – Europe as well as consulting and training for leaders and teams throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East. She was a part of the original team at Saturn Corporation (General Motors) where she was leader of corporate culture and retail training. Her distinct gift is helping others to achieve clarity in the midst of complexity, uncertainty and change.
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