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How to transform your community services workplace culture as a relational leader

How to transform your community services workplace culture as a relational leader

Want to get the most out of your team?

It’s hard to imagine any manager that would answer no, we all want our teams to be happy and functioning well, so if you’re managing people in your organisation, this one is for you.

There are a zillion theories on the best ways to manage your team, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing - people. Your team might be nurses, educators, carers, support workers, or administrative staff… but first and foremost, they’re people. So it makes sense that as a leader, one of the most important things you can be is relational.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re automatically everyone’s best friend, or that the lines of appropriate work relationships get blurred in the name of ‘relationship’. It simply means that we approach our leadership through the lens of humanity.

There are a zillion theories on the best ways to manage your team, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing - people. Your team might be nurses, educators, carers, support workers, or administrative staff… but first and foremost, they’re people. So it makes sense that as a leader, one of the most important things you can be is relational.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re automatically everyone’s best friend, or that the lines of appropriate work relationships get blurred in the name of ‘relationship’. It simply means that we approach our leadership through the lens of humanity.

Many studies, like this survey of IT workers by Akram, Lei and Haider, have shown that a relational leadership style results in higher levels of innovation and motivation among employees. Although this style of leadership has emerged to demonstrate a large evidence-base in academia over the last two decades, there are still a large number of managers and leaders who, firstly, don’t practice these techniques, and secondly, pull their hair out wondering why their team culture isn’t turning around. 

So if you’re looking to transform your workplace vibe, here’s some ways to incorporate the principles of relational leading into your management style:

   Create a clear boundary around the ideas playground, and you’re much more likely to garner valuable insights and strategy from your team.

Include your team:

Many workers, particularly Australians, detest the ‘top down’ approach, and will lean out from leaders who simply ‘rule and decree’, without any consultation.

It’s not practical to include your team in every single decision, so be intentional about which decisions or projects could benefit from shared input and ideas. If you’re worried about your team taking too much leeway, or coming up with ideas that are too far away from base, make a predetermined list of ‘non-negotiables’. This way you create a clear boundary around the ideas playground, and you’re much more likely to garner valuable insights and strategy from your team.

Consulting your team in person, as far as possible, is also an important way to include them. It might not change the message, but if there are hard decisions, or important information that must be carried through, create a space of consultation and discussion. This way, even though the outcome doesn’t change, the team feels part of the decision and how it is outworked. There’s also care taken to facilitate the all-important upward communication.

Understand what motivates people:

Another way to grow as a relational leader is to understand what motivates people. Not everyone is motivated by money or finance. Some people want to feel like they’ve contributed, others like to be noticed for their work, or to have security in their job. Still others want the satisfaction of completing a task or goal. 

Take a little time to understand what’s driving your team, and tap into those motivations. If you can hit that motivation centre, it will help you frame tasks, projects or goals in ways that automatically cause people to lean into the work.

Define your goal, then rally the crowd:

People want to work towards the common good. Without a sense of vision or direction or purpose, we lose our way easily. People may stick around out of responsibility or a sense of loyalty, but eventually you’ll be stuck in a cycle of high turnover and low morale. So the next thing a relational leader does is define the goal, and rally people to the cause.

Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Even if the goal of your organisation doesn’t change much, choose aspects of your goal to focus on. Have ways of measuring, and develop feedback mechanisms to ensure that your team is informed about what they’ve contributed to and achieved together.

This can be difficult in the caring industry, where our goal or targets might be less to do with numbers and ‘hard’ outputs. As community services professionals, our goals are sometimes ‘softer’ and less easy to quantify. So think about how you can be creative around your cause:

  • If you’re about person-centred service: Ask your clients to name one thing they love about your service. Add the answers to a notice board, or make a memo at the end of the month with all the responses.
  • If you’re about helping people with disabilities achieve their goals: How many clients have achieved a goal this month? Keep a tally or a photo board in a staff area to remind the team of their amazing work.
  • If you’re about giving people choice: choose one aspect of your service and outline the various choices available to clients, and list the ways to help make the options easy and clear at the point of service provision.

Defining your goal to your team is really about knowing who you are as an organisation - then you simply have to make that slogan on your wall a reality for your team to take a part in.

 

Empowerment

Finally, a relational leader empowers their team.

Empowerment can be a vague buzzword, but as The Community Services Specialists, empowerment is at the heart of everything we do. So we know empowerment is essential to a flourishing community services organisation.

You took time, effort and expense into recruiting the best people for the job at hand, so don’t falter at the next step and clip their wings. Connect your team with the resources they need. Give them choices about how they do their job within the framework you’ve provided. Allow them a voice in decisions - or hand over decisions when it’s appropriate. And give them opportunities to grow and expand in their work.

It really works...

In the aforementioned study, researchers investigated the effect of relational leadership on employee workplace innovation. They found that “Those leaders who are more inclusive, ethical, empowering, caring and those who have a clear vision are able to increase the innovative work behaviour among their followers.” For any manager looking to get the best from their team, it’s a no-brainer.

If you’re looking for more ways to enhance your leadership game, download our free eBook today. It’s full of simple steps that can be used by any organisational leader to transform your community services workplace culture for the better.

A study by Akram, Lei and Haider found that “Those leaders who are more inclusive, ethical, empowering, caring and those who have a clear vision are able to increase the innovative work behaviour among their followers.” For any manager looking to get the best from their team, it’s a no-brainer!

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