In keeping with the re-release of the 80’s hit sitcom The A-Team as a feature film (I still remember Mr. T’s famous line, “I pity the fool”), and being asked by a client CEO how she can more effectively develop her bench of leadership talent, here are eight best practices for developing a relationship-centric A-Team:

1. Profile Your Strongest Relationship-Developing Leaders Today – When looking at your current leadership bench (direct reports as well as perhaps one or even two tiers down), identify pockets of relationship-development best practices. In our experience, they’re seldom exclusive to one individual, so look wide and deep to build an ideal profile for the relationship-centric leader, like you would a puzzle. This will serve as the future state of your bench.

2. Pick A-Players and Relationship-Centric Onboard Them. I recently wrote about relationship-centric onboarding, a process that is considerably more effective if you refuse to cut corners and truly invest in hiring A-players out of the gate. Use a rigorous and proven process of selection, interviewing, and assessment (NOT an HR role by the way), followed by an investment in teaching, assimilating and setting them onto a relationship fail-proof path. Elevate your mindset to one that sees ROI from all human capital efforts – search, assessment, onboarding, training and development, strategic alignment, and when applicable, outplacement. What aspect of this process couldn’t benefit from stronger relationships?

3. Invest in Your Bench’s Relationship-Development – Leaders who are not willing or able to invest in the development of their bench neglect to do so at their peril. Create the aforementioned profile of a relationship-centric leader, benchmark the team against it and create individual development pathways for each required role and realm of responsibilities. Remember that relationships are between individuals and everyone matures in both the art and science of relationships at very different paces. As such, a one-size-fits-all “let’s pack everyone in a classroom for a week” approach seldom works.

4. Be The Relationship-Centric Role Model They Seek – Your bench is desperately looking for a role model to emulate. Why not you as the leader who walks the relationship-development talk? You aim to raise the bar and set a higher standard for the team, but how’s the view in the mirror? Are you engaging, centered and focused? Do you invest strategically, formally and informally in relationship coaching and mentoring, and are you developing a culture unafraid of retribution and with the courage to fail? Your own relationship-development performance, habits, and leadership skills will speak much louder than any memo!

5. Provide Relationship-Development Challenges and Opportunities – When was the last time you had to walk a tight rope between two buildings, or stand behind one of your executives while they fell backwards? So many of our relationship and trust-development exercises are ludicrous at best! We go into the woods and do all these goofy things that have absolutely no bearing on the reality of the office. As the leader, you have a fiduciary responsibility to create value-based, real-world scenarios for your bench so that they develop value-based, performance-focused relationships, both within as well as external to the organization. When the bench has a sense of purpose, meaning, and passion around the relationships they develop every day, they may just surprise you when faced with challenges or opportunities and make the impossible, possible. If not, you can always go back to paint ball fights and capture the flag!

6. Develop Succinct Relationship-Centric Goals – At all levels, create goals that individuals, teams or organizations cannot achieve by themselves; in essence, goals that require leaders to identify, nurture, and in a win-win manner, leverage relationships. Beyond a clear vision, mission, and strategy (which is often just wall art), help leaders create strategic relationship dashboards, individual relationship initiatives, and personal actions that may or may not call for a change in behavior. This approach tends to have the biggest impact on creating results, as relationship-centric goals drive higher performance. But also keep in mind that relationships go bad when there are misaligned expectations. As such, invest additional time, effort and resources up front to appropriately align those expectations.

7. Create a Relationship-Development Learning Environment – Make no mistake about it, performance trumps all. In the end, though, relationships give high performers the extra edge. As such, balance the expectations your bench has of a performing versus learning environment. How?

a. Empower a cascading culture of relationship development – say, “I know you get it; how about the rest of the team?”

b. Remove the unwows! Whatever is unimpressive about how your team identifies, builds and nurtures relationships – find a way to remove it!

c. Recognize impactful relationships – relationships are enabling; when they enable success, recognize it openly.

d. Making learning from relationships fun!

Give me an hour inside any company and I can tell you whether they “get,” value, and invest in relationships – and learn a great deal in the process, or not. It’s in the air from the minute you walk in. If you can’t tell, invite trusted colleagues in who can, and then be open to their input.

8. Conduct Individual and Team-based Relationship-Centric Assessments – Just as fingerprints are unique, we build and nurture relationships in very unique manners based on our past experiences, knowledge, talent, and perceived value for doing so. To understand the team you’ve assembled, assess them with criteria relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles – similar to how the popular behavioral assessments such as Myers-Briggs, Hogan, Birkman, DiSC, HBDI and psychographic have worked. We have developed two: Relationship Signature Index™ to evaluate individual attributes, and Relationship DNA™, which takes an empirical look at team attributes.

At the end of the day, a relationship-centric team that is unafraid of retribution and develops the courage to fail – fast, forward and cheap – will learn to perform together and deliver results!

How are you developing your relationship-centric A-Team?


Interested in learning more? Be sure to take advantage of the additional resources Relationship Economics has to offer:

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