Can We Transform Bad Relationships Into Good Ones? If So, How?


A metaphor we often use when working with clients is that it’s not enough for leaders to just ‘drive their bus’ from point A to point B – what matters is to make sure that the trip goes smoothly with no accidents and without losing passengers along the way.

Problems with your work colleagues

Imagine this: a client named Sebastian (pseudonym) has experienced many run-ins with colleagues on his path to occupying one of top five positions in the industry. On his ‘road to success’, one could say: if he were driving too fast, he would be pulled over for going over the speed limit and for reckless endangerment. His HR has forwarded him complaints on his behavior many times, while his director has responded to them by reducing his bonus. Naturally, Sebastian isn’t happy. Until now, he has believed his only priority was complete focus on meeting the targets and becoming the best in the business. However, achieving great results is only one of the three parameters of personal success and team work.

Sebastian neglected two remaining factors: involvement in his team and continuous growth and development.

What’s more important: results or people?

Like many others who are experts at what they do but not experts at leadership, Sebastian saw the development of relationships with his colleagues as only one of the steps towards achieving his goals. He wasn’t entirely sure about how important it was to invest time and energy in building relationships and cooperating with his colleagues; he didn’t want to appear vulnerable in front of others. Managers who think like Sebastian are one of the reasons why we wanted to dig a little deeper in order to uncover the story behind successful teams and interpersonal relations.

We came to the following conclusion, a simple, yet comprehensive model involving five key elements of success: security, purpose, structure, closeness and relation-mending.

In order to determine these key factors, we started with successful leaders, teams, marketing campaigns, as well as love stories. The five elements that guarantee success are founded on ways of thinking, values and behavior that have proven to be efficient. This is very appealing to leaders who want concrete strategies but don’t know how to establish good communication with others. An additional advantage is that this system has a second benefit: the same factors that are essential for work are also vital at home.

How to overcome bad relationships?

How can you help Sebastian mend broken relationships and reestablish trust with his team? One can conclude from the current situation in his team, as well as from Sebastian’s current behavior, that he must focus on mending relationships in order to rebuild a basis for security for his team and for himself.

Luckily, mending relationships is a great opportunity to establish closeness within a team. For example, a study of customer service departments shows that it’s twice as likely for consumers to buy a product if they know that the company responds to complains filed online, as opposed to consumers who don’t know it. This could be encouraging news for Sebastian. With support, he will be able to position himself regarding his existing poor reputation and differences of opinion, with the aim of bringing his team back on track. In addition, it is necessary to find Sebastian’s new purpose, through mending relationships and reestablishing security. In order to do this, one needs to examine what the majority of Sebastian’s coworkers and team members think about what he could do in order to be more efficient in the future and mend his relations with others. Afterwards, we will go with him through their suggestions and create a strategy demonstrating his dedication to fixing the situation.

Sebastian should try out strategies for setting up dialogues, in contrast to his usual habit of defending his actions. He should invite people to give him feedback in order to help him create a new path. Through his strategy for mending relationships, Sebastian will have to learn to apologize properly.

You should come to the point at which your own ‘Sebastian’ takes responsibility for his actions and admits he wasn’t paying enough attention to his colleagues, their emotions, effort or attempts to achieve their goals. He has to realize that he was only looking after himself.

Additional reasons for damaged relationships

What else could lead to a decrease in motivation, damaged relationships and communication among team members? The organizational structure itself.

The power of will and skills themselves is not enough for success in teams and relationships, so the structure of Sebastian’s team needs to be changed. He has too many direct subordinates – twenty of them, to be precise. In such a situation, a new managerial structure is essential in order to reduce his leadership baggage. Restructuring to no more than five direct subordinates will help Sebastian focus on determining a strategy and reducing employee demands on his managerial skills. What else could result from such a reorganization? Sebastian will automatically have more time to develop his expertise, as well as to network with experienced people who could benefit from his expertise.

How to find a purpose? It is necessary that the purpose of each team be discovered with regards to newly-set annual income targets and client service goals. Friendship (and unity) is something Sebastian can create through one-on-one conversations in which he can recognize the unique skills of each individual and find a way for those skills to truly contribute to the team’s purpose.

Your ‘Sebastian’ client needs to focus on the five cornerstones for establishing successful communication and relationships in the team, and not only at the beginning, but to continuously come up with new ways for maintaining his team’s motivation and closeness. If he does this, success is guaranteed.

Do you have a ‘Sebastian’ among your clients? In what ways could you use these five elements – security, purpose, structure, closeness and mending relationships – in order to assess how your clients could become more efficient when it comes to their teams and relationships, and what could be the starting point?