Relationships Matter

How to Build Social Ties & the 5 Biggest Work Relationship Mistakes

What the Experts Say

Without friendships at work, you miss out on two types of important support: structural support, which is “the ability to ask someone to cover for you when you’re in a bind,” and emotional support, which is having someone who can talk you through stress, change, or anxiety.

Start small

Focus on one or two people to start. Look for colleagues who you have things in common with and consider those outside your division or unit. The intention is to build relationships that are good for you, others, and the organization.

Make the time

Annie McKee, founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute and coauthor of Primal Leadership, says that people often blame their busy schedules for their inattention to work relationships. So you have to make a conscious effort to set aside time for relationship-building. She suggests looking at your calendar and blocking off half-hour or hour-long blocks to talk or have lunch or coffee with colleagues.

When you’re remote

If all of your interaction with your colleagues is over email and conference calls, it can be tough to get to know people. Start off calls with five minutes of small talk about what’s going on in your life and others’. Include greetings and a line or two of small talk in your emails.

Other Ideas:

  • Stop making excuses
  • Ask questions
  • Use the time before a meeting starts
  • Be authentic and realistic

Principles to Remember


  • Start by making small changes in your behavior, like saying hello or making eye contact
  • Make connections beyond your immediate team—it’s important to have relationships across the organization
  • Build time into your busy schedule to build relationships


  • Don’t feel you need to share personal details to make a connection; work-related conversation works too
  • Think just because you’re an introvert, that you don’t need friendships at work
  • Fake it—your efforts to connect must be authentic or people will see through you

The ability to build and leverage a network of relationships was the best predictor of success. Building collaborative work relationships is a challenge for many people. Your role as a leader is to guide your team to accomplish bigger goals than they could achieve on their own. Building stronger work relationships begins with helping others achieve their goals.

Some Common Workplace Mistakes

People want to follow leaders who have a clear sense of where they are going, a demonstrated concern for others, and a focus on results. Here are 5 common mistakes people make when building relationships at work.

  1. Taking before giving. The best work relationships feature a reciprocal give-and-take. The art of building relationships is to give as much as you can with no immediate expectation of return in mind.
  2. Being an opportunistic relationship builder. People focus on establishing relationships with people they perceive to be important in the hierarchy. They don’t put nearly as much energy into those they view as low on the totem pole. As a leader, you’re only as good as the people you’re leading.
  3. Seeing relationship building as playing office politics and seeing no need for relationship building. You also want to build strong collaboration skills that allow you to work on large-scale group projects.
  4. Forgetting about results. Good relationships can make up for a lack of knowledge and skills. Cultivate good work relationships is to better accomplish organizational goals.
  5. Limiting your relationship circle. Develop relationships only with people who are similar to them or who belong in their peer group. Best leaders are the ones who develop relationships with, those who work in different departments, have different skill sets, or belong to different peer groups.

Evaluate where you are

The best way to begin building authentic relationships is to map out your current relationships. Do a quick assessment:

  • Do you know what is important to them?
  • Do you know anything personal about them? What do they like to do during off-hours?  Get to know the complete person.
  • Is your current relationship positive, neutral, or negative with that person?

Identify and develop strategies for improving those relationships.

Let’s do lunch: A great place to start building any relationship is to take some time to get to know more about the other person. Invite that person to lunch. Spend most of the meal listening to them and asking questions. Use that same strategy to build relationships with others.

Leading is relating: The higher you go in an organization, the more important it becomes to maintain the good relationships you have established over the years. Human beings want to work with people they know and like.