At Work

Manage Relationships, not Just Workers

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I have a theory that my job as a supervisor is to manage relationships on my team, not just manage people.

What are your initial reactions to this radical concept? I have not heard or read of this anywhere else. (It could be a great topic for a Ph.D. dissertation if I was pursuing a doctorate.)

Let me summarize my applications from a college math class I took on combinatorial theory, demonstrate how I use these calculations to adjust my management style, provide some biblical support for my theory, and offer some practical suggestions as to how to best apply this concept. I believe it will be eye-opening and will be extremely useful for many who manage a team of people.

Using Combinatorial Theory at Work

Several years ago, I saw how I could use combinatorial theory to figure out just how many distinct relationships we had in our Operations section. It is a simple mathematical formula: n x (n-1)/2, where n is the number of people you have.

With five team members, you multiply five by four (which are the four people each has to work with) and then divide by two. (You do not need to count relationships twice; my relationship with you is the same as yours with me). In this case, five times four equals twenty, divided by two, which yields a total of ten relationships.

What if we added two more workers to our team of five?

Now we have seven. How many distinct relationships do we have now? Using the formula above, 7 x 6 / 2 = 21. Twenty one! By adding two more people to our team, I do not have just two more people for me to care for. I am now required as a manager to maintain eleven more relationships than the ten we had earlier. (Each of the two new team members has to relate to the previous five and also will relate to each other.) This is fascinating to me and has a number of implications.

Implications for Managers

These calculations have changed the way I do business. Every relationship is important and needs to be monitored by the leader. The chain is only as good as its weakest link. Everyone has to relate to each other, and not just to the boss. As a leader, I am responsible to facilitateimprove, and maintain each relationship between my employees, not just my relationships with each of them.

Additionally, where there are more people on your team, there will always be more potential for conflict. With so many relationships to maintain, each member of the team has to strive to communicate positively with everyone and resolve conflicts at the lowest level possible.

Being a Faithful Shepherd of the Sheep

Those who are called to full-time pastoral ministry are often reminded of their roles as shepherds of the flock. However, as I look at my own role as a manager (a supervisor of supervisors), I am also called to be a faithful shepherd of the team that God has placed me over, as long as I am in this position. Let me share some Scriptures on being a good shepherd and discuss how that can apply to any leader.

Let’s start with Jesus. He stated that He was the good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). This should remind us of the words of David in Psalm 23, who spoke of  Yahweh as his shepherd. When Jesus saw the crowds as He was teaching and healing, He had compassion on them, as they were like sheep without a shepherd. (See Matt. 9:35-37Mark 6:34.)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke often about shepherds. He mentions that God will once again provide faithful shepherds after His own heart, who will lead with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15). Later, he criticizes Israel’s leaders for being senseless and letting the sheep be scattered (Jer. 10:21).

There are a few implied tasks from these verses above. I need to be like Jesus as a shepherd of the flock, who lovingly, sacrificially, and faithfully cares for His people. I need to pray that God will continue to transform me into a compassionate leader, who will lead with wisdom and knowledge.

Shepherds who want to be wise are exhorted to pay close attention to their flocks (Prov. 27:23). I do not know if sheep relate to each other. They probably do to a certain degree. But people do, and if we are to be attentive shepherds of our team, we need to ensure they get along with each other.

How do I Maintain Relationships on My Team?

Let me provide a few suggestions as to how to foster relationships and build teamwork:

  • Consistently treat everyone with dignity and respect; expect the same from all members
  • Provide opportunities to work on projects with someone different (i.e., officers with NCOs)
  • Train team members to look out for each other, offer help when needed, and handle conflicts at the lowest level before they bring them to you
  • Pay attention to those who tend to keep to themselves and avoid interacting with the others on the team; you want to encourage positive relationships, not just avoid conflict

Closing challenge

At the end of the day, I want to build a strong team, one that can accomplish the variety of missions we are given every day, which in our case directly supports and defends the U.S. Constitution. As I focus my attention on building a caring community of teammates, we will all come out as winners.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the author’s personal blog. Republished with permission.

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