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Instead of binding contracts, focus on this workplace touchstone for connected teams

A strict set of rules is not an ideal launching point for a cohesive relationship.

Instead of binding contracts, focus on this workplace touchstone for connected teams
[Source Images: Getty, Dan-Cristian Pădureț/Unsplash]

In the world of business, everyone loves a contract. What’s not to love? They make you feel warm and fuzzy. A contract implies commitment, negotiation, and agreements to mitigate risk—all good things.

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After signing a contract, both sides feel confident that they can start from a place of trust with clear expectations in place.

But here’s what many companies get wrong: While employment may be secured on paper, it also represents a relationship that needs to be continually fostered and maintained.

Not taking the above into account is why many leaders are often blindsided by high turnover rates (as we all saw with the Great Resignation). “What happened?” they ask. They had a contract, after all, which is a “done deal.” But I like to remind my peers in leadership that, just as in a marriage, a piece of paper isn’t a guarantee for future longevity in the workplace.

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Contracts fall short of developing a foundation

One of our favorite ways of welcoming a new hire at my company is by sending them a personalized onboarding kit. While a package full of goodies won’t necessarily ensure a successful working relationship, it creates a positive first impression that allows new team members to feel motivated in working with us.

Giving a personal touch from the get-go is essential when it comes to establishing the right environment. The best part about this is that it’s inclusive of both in-person and remote workers who receive the same items.

Of course, while swag is great and all, it’s only the starting point of building rapport with your employees. Keep in mind, positive connections aren’t built in a day; many factors go into maintaining them. Here are few I recommend you take into account.

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Uncertainty can derail relationships

“Your team members, despite what you may think is reasonable, often suffer more than you as a founder from uncertainty in the workplace,” writes Inc.com contributor, Martin Zwilling. In other words, it’s up to us as leaders to mitigate many of these anxieties, especially in times like the ones we’re living in.

Nearly every worker across the country is feeling unsettled. The strain of the past two years has taken its toll, and the threat of a deadly virus still looms large. The fact is, according to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace report, U.S. employees are some of the most stressed in the world.

So, what’s the solution? For one: Be an advocate for employee well-being. Create a culture of thriving by taking regular surveys, creating policies focused on work/life balance, and committing to transparency to ease their concerns. It’s important to communicate this on all levels of your organization.

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Offering a welcome package and then abandoning your team members to work things out for themselves is one of the top ways relationships get derailed.

Humility can lift up your leadership

Fear is a distraction and, with the circumstances that COVID-19 has triggered, many employees are on edge. Graciously recognizing and acknowledging these anxieties is one of the best ways for fostering work relationships. Leaders who are intent on justifying their viewpoint at all costs or dismissing others’ opinions create an internal power struggle—one where people stop engaging.

In my opinion, there is no room for arrogance in a positive company culture. Some of the ways I attempt to lead with more humility is by admitting my mistakes and shortcomings, in being able to praise a team member for a job well done, and, most important, regularly giving thanks for the hard work and effort they put into making my company better, each and every day.

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Continuous feedback can create real change

It’s important to me that I continually facilitate meaningful and ongoing conversations with my team. I do this in several ways, but one of them is by eating lunch with a different employee each day (either in person, or via Zoom sharing a meal). This allows me to listen to any challenges they might be going through, while also providing a way to give honest feedback.

I want to make it a point to state that the way we offer our opinions is just as crucial as regularly making this a practice. In his insightful story for Fast Company, contributor Michael Timms makes the case for providing feedback that’s helpful and not hurtful. “Contrary to popular belief, most people want to hear how they can improve—as long as that feedback is delivered well.”

But there’s a middle point between being too soft and too harsh in our approach. Over the past 16 years, I’ve learned that the best strategy is to actively listen and offer my feedback with affirmations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that focusing on a person’s mistakes damages their morale, and consequently, your relationships.

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This is why I prefer to use the technique of sharing observations while looking toward future improvement. Not only is it more fruitful, it can make these conversations something an employee even looks forward to.


Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform, a leading online forms SaaS solution.

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