People need people. It’s true in business as in life, but employers can tend to describe people as resources, and personality as culture, and make their understanding of productive teams fit within these boundaries.
The reality is that truly productive teams tend to be close-knit. There’s a strong sense of rapport between the team members. Let’s face it: In a productive team, it’s the teamwork — willingness to try to problem-solve together — that often ensures the productivity. And teamwork depends, above all else, on rapport.
What makes for good rapport? Skill levels matter, as do personalities, but rapport is a trickier equation than just putting capable, fun people together. We’ve all seen individuals who’d make great friends on paper struggle to work productively in a team.
Communication, and the willingness of team members to take the trouble to find and inhabit common ground, are often crucially important factors in rapport building. Yet current workplace and technology trends can make these ideals difficult to reach.
The proliferation of dispersed teams, and teams that combine full-time, part-time and contract staff, can fall prey to various communications pitfalls: colloquialisms and language barriers, time zones, and cultural differences in work style and expectations, for example. These external factors can make it difficult for even the best-suited colleagues to develop a strong sense of one another, and build a productive working relationship.
Tools can present additional hurdles. Each of us has our favorite tools, and preferred ways to use them, and those preferences can cause teamwork hiccups. But the varying experiences and values of team members can also mean that we find some tools more difficult or time-consuming to use, and that can restrict our usage of those tools — and the development of working relationships — accordingly.
Finally, the ongoing focus on brevity — of emails, meetings, documentation, social network updates, phone messages, and so on — can undermine the kind of self-expression that usually forms the basis for understanding and rapport.
Being aware of the factors that can limit the development of productive working relationships is the first step in remedying a rapport deficit within your team. Beyond that, there are many ways we can consciously work to build rapport with our colleagues.
We can’t all be available 100 percent of the time, but availability is a big hurdle to developing rapport. If you can’t communicate with a colleague in the timeframe they expect, you need to explain why, and tell them when you’ll get back to them.
This can be an important step in educating your colleagues — particularly remote, contract or new team members — about your work habits and style. It can also reduce frustration on their end, and help them to develop appropriate expectations about working with you — both important factors in building rapport.
If you’re addressing a colleague, take the time to give them your full attention and a complete response.
That hastily-dashed-off email sent from your phone that addressed only one point in your workmate’s message may wind up being more confusing than illuminating. But, more than that, if it makes you come across as careless, inarticulate, ignorant, cranky or demanding, it could retard the development of the rapport that’ll make for smoother working relationships in future.
Find Common Ground
Rapport depends on some sort of common understanding. Whether it’s about professional or personal interests, seek to find common ground with your teammate, and try to spend some time in that space.
Ask them questions. Seek their opinions or views. Take what you know of their personalities and interests on board as you work with them. A few genuinely personal lines in an otherwise dry email or IM can make a world of difference to your colleagues’ motivation to help you out on this task, and those ahead.
Your willingness to share information about your own interests is just as important as theirs — perhaps more so if you’re the one consciously trying to build rapport.
Don’t let your chances of developing a strong working relationship be curtailed by a shy colleague’s apparent distance. Make the effort to share something about yourself and you might just encourage them to be more candid with you — a positive first step on the road to better rapport.
How important is rapport in the way your team works? What helps you build rapport with your colleagues?