Contracting for Effective Relationships

How well a leader accomplishes his/her intended goals and strategies is very much dependent on the quality of the connection among the members of the system. As important as relationships among team members are in the world of organizations, this is an area that unfortunately gets left to chance much too often. Many organizations talk about being team-based and they actually are. Yet, many struggle with issues of team effectiveness.

Organizations tend to reward individuals for their technological success. Success at leading or building effective teams often gets little recognition. This is a major miss since problems in the relationship between system members are the primary cause of human systems failing to accomplish their goals. Process improvement strategies like Lean or Six Sigma are analytically fine tools. However, they fail if the human system that will implement the strategy is bedeviled with team relationships that are not working very well. I was asked to see how I might be helpful with a research and development team that was struggling over their industry-standard evaluation process. From doing interviews, I discovered the problems were not with the process so much. The problems stemmed from two team members that seemed determined to disagree with anything the other said. Of course, other team members had busied themselves taking sides! As the relationship issues of the team surfaced and were resolved, agreement around the evaluation process was fairly easy to accomplish.

Below are five agreements to include in contracts that can support strong connections in human systems:

  1. All members agree on the intended outcome goals of the system along with the strategies and roles needed to achieve them.
  2. All members agree to consistently and proactively help and support each other and to not allow members to fail regarding tasks related to the goals of the system and their Conscious Use of Self, as described back in Chapter Three.
  3. All members agree to speak candidly and freely about ways to improve the system’s effectiveness and health.
  4. All members agree to greet diversity with curiosity rather than judgment in order to support learning and innovation rather than create contention and unnecessary conformity.
  5. All members agree to give and receive the feedback necessary to support the system and its individual members staying on track or getting back on track to achieve their goals.

These agreements, when explicitly and freely contracted for, work to build strong teams and collegial relationship that are the backbone of healthy organizations. They work aswell in our personal lives. We often take for granted the quality of our connectedness with our significant others, children, siblings, parents, and friends, only to find that we’ve grown apart when we may need their support the most. Contracting and Recontracting for those five points works well when dysfunction in all human systems occurs.