Co-creating Connections In The Workplace



In contemporary leadership, it's becoming increasingly clear that leading with a human-centric approach above all else distinguishes the great from the good. Traditionally, the divide between “personal” and “work” was an accepted norm, but in the 2020s, it’s becoming accepted that the ability for leaders to connect with their team members on a human level fosters authentic relationships and enables them to lead every individual to their full potential. This creates a ripple effect of benefits for the organisation. 



When leaders take the time to cultivate genuine connections with their team members on a personal level, they foster a sense of loyalty and commitment, leading to higher levels of engagement and productivity. Strong relationships between leaders and team members facilitate effective communication and conflict resolution, creating a culture of open dialogue and transparency.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) identified interpersonal relationships as one of the top drivers of employee engagement and retention. Organisations that prioritise fostering connections among employees tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction, loyalty, and commitment.

It is, of course, imperative that leaders strike a balance between building rapport and maintaining professionalism. Remember to respect their boundaries and preferences and ensure no one feels pressured to share more than they are comfortable with.

Co-creating relationships

Relationships by their very nature cannot be singular; each needs to be part of building these connections, i.e. they must co-create it. In its 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte paints a picture of the work world we find ourselves in now and emphasises that for leaders to be successful, they need to cultivate deeper relationships with their people. Not only with. Together with.

If a leader works alongside each team member to shape the dynamics of their relationship, it signals the presence of open dialogue, active listening, and shared decision-making, empowering every person to play an active role in creating a work environment where they will thrive.

This doesn’t come easy, though. Co-creating a relationship that is essentially based on a power imbalance can be tough to do. To co-create, both parties need to show vulnerability. Neither can find the courage to truly connect if they are not willing to be open. And for that, two elements need to be present, and both must be initiated by the leader: a sense of belonging and an authentic approach.

I have spoken about the former in previous articles and its importance in creating a safe environment where everyone feels like their voice is heard and their opinions matter. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report ranked belonging as the top human capital issue staring organisations in the face, stating that 51% of employees who left their jobs in the past six months (of when the survey was conducted) lacked a sense of belonging at work. The importance of belonging will continue in 2024.

On the authenticity front, the leader must approach the relationship with a genuine desire to improve it and themselves. In other words, it must not be for show. Co-creation requires giving feedback to encourage continuous improvement, and for leaders to know how to lead each member of their team to speak to their specific needs, they need to know them – their strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics.

Of course, for those of us who lead large teams or don’t have enough hours in the day, this seems like a laughable suggestion, but as leaders, we can’t afford to tolerate the whirlwind, the strife of everyday life, to such a degree that we allow ourselves and others to hide in the shadow of mediocrity and slip into the darkness of insignificance. To invest in building strong relationships with those we lead, despite demanding schedules, we can ensure that our workforce is fulfilled by creating an environment that nurtures personal and professional growth, fosters meaningful connections, and recognises individual contributions.

We can co-create this environment with our team because it is our responsibility as leaders to know what each team member needs to bring their best self to work every day. Those who must do, do. Those who want to do well.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Invest time in personal connections: 

Actively make time to understand your team members on a personal level. Schedule regular one-to-one meetings where you can discuss both work-related matters and personal interests or challenges. Ask about their hobbies, families, or any outside interests they have. By showing genuine interest in their lives outside of work, you foster a sense of loyalty and commitment. This approach helps build trust and rapport, leading to higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Encourage open dialogue and co-creation: 

Foster an environment of open dialogue and shared decision-making. Encourage team members to voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns freely. Actively listen to their input and involve them in shaping the dynamics of their relationship with you as a leader. Create opportunities for collaborative problem-solving and decision-making processes. By involving team members in co-creating the working environment and relationship dynamics, you empower them to take ownership and feel valued within the team.

Prioritise personal and professional growth:

Recognise and support the individual needs of each team member for personal and professional growth. Regularly assess their strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics to tailor support and development opportunities accordingly. Provide constructive feedback and coaching to help them improve and grow. Foster a culture that values continuous learning and improvement.

By investing in the growth and development of your team members, you not only enhance their skills and capabilities but also demonstrate your commitment to their well-being and success within the organisation.

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.” As leaders, we have the power to influence our work relationships, for good or bad. The benefits of using that influence to build strong relationships built on trust, respect and shared vision are untold.

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