Workplace collaboration is essential for teams to be effective, and at the core of collaboration is trust. Thus, to increase workplace collaboration, leaders must foster trust.

Without trust, relationships don’t work, and organisations can’t capitalise on teamwork and the synergy that comes from people being interested in helping others rather than just helping themselves.

In low-trust environments, people are fearful of taking initiative and innovating. They wait for top-down directives rather than taking action on their own. A low-trust culture is characterised by fear, defensiveness, backbiting, hesitancy and, ultimately, low engagement. A low trust environment is just one of the barriers to collaboration–this, and other barriers, must be removed in order for teams to reach their highest potential.

Strong, healthy relationships are built on good listening and sincere concern for one another. They are the grease that makes the gears of all organisations run smoothly. These kinds of relationships produce an organisational environment where people look forward to coming to work each morning. They drive both engagement and performance, and help teams weather storms and manage difficult and stressful times.

A client of mine, Brian, understood this principle as he led his company through a merger. For obvious reasons, mergers and acquisitions typically place great strain on all of the people involved; roles are made redundant, departments are shifted and general uncertainty is created.

To reduce this stress, Brian saw it as part of his responsibility to help people in the acquired organisation work together with their new owners. “I needed to become a conduit to connect the mother ship with the new employees,” explained Brian. “I spent a lot of time taking people up to visit the head office, and also inviting people from corporate to come into our offices. I fostered a lot of meet-and-greets to create those relationships, and said to both sides, ‘If there’s any friction, get on the phone to me straight away’. I took it as a real challenge to make sure that both parties got the very best. And now we’ve been able to develop very strong connections through all the teams that interact between both businesses.”

Brian was described by one of his direct reports as doing a fantastic job of building relationships with first, second, and third-level managers across the company structure. He said, “Those people are integral in working with us and helping us execute our strategies. We need them. So Brian’s not only done a really good job of informing them of the direction we want to take, but also selling them on their role in helping us achieve that. He’s built a coalition of the forces–our side and within the main corporate side–to do whatever it takes to deliver our strategy.”

Good working relationships are central to building high-performing teams. High performing teams collaborate effectively, and are supported by leaders who foster strong relationships and open communication. Don't ever underestimate just how important relationships are in your success as a leader–take the time to build them.