The absolute necessity for agreements that create relationships that work

Organizations and their leaders often reward technical prowess while neglecting to recognize the art of leading and nurturing effective teams.

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Pd.D. | CEO, Center for Human Systems

Last month, a young man complained to me about getting passed over for a leadership position. He told me how hard he worked and that he was the best engineer in the entire company. I asked him about his relationship with his boss and colleagues. He said he just focuses on his work—that his work should speak for itself.

I’m sure his work spoke for itself but did not speak for the quality of relationships he also needed.

Technical competence is essential. In fact, many leaders get promoted because of their technical competence. However, technical excellence is not enough to succeed as a leader, just as it wasn’t enough for the young man who was passed over when he applied for a leadership role.

If anything, in leadership, relationship competence is more important than technical competence. The quality of relationship that leaders develop defines the quality of their leadership.

I’ve worked with several leaders who thought the quality of their relationship had to do with being liked by their followers. Wrong. In leadership, quality of relationship can be measured by the levels of respect and trust that are developed.

Respect in the sense of being admired for the ability to motivate and coach while developing powerful teams of people who work effectively and well together.

Although many organizations say they understand the value of teamwork, they often neglect to ensure their leaders have the skills for effective relationships. They emphasize individual achievements, even though the strength of team dynamics that truly determines organizational success.

Organizations and their leaders often reward technical prowess while neglecting to recognize the art of leading and nurturing effective teams. Yet, the root of many organizational failures lies not in flawed technical skills but in dysfunctional team dynamics.

Useful and powerful technical tools like Lean or Six Sigma falter when confronted with discordant team relationships.

For instance, a research and development team was struggling with its industry-standard evaluation process. Through interviews, I discovered the issue wasn’t with the process but with two members locked in perpetual disagreement, dragging the rest of the team into their conflict. Addressing these relationship challenges paved the way for the successful use of the evaluation process.

Successful leaders build effective relationships with their followers through negotiating for five essential agreements with their people that underpin strong individual and team success:

  1. We agree on the outcome goals of our team along with the strategies and roles needed to achieve them.
  1. We agree to help and support each other proactively.
  1. We agree to speak candidly and freely about ways to improve our team’s effectiveness and health.
  1. We agree to greet diversity with curiosity rather than judgment.
  1. We agree to give and receive the feedback needed to support us in staying on track toward our goals.

By explicitly contracting for these agreements, leaders stimulate strong bonds and collaborative relationships, which are the bedrock of thriving organizations.

It’s easy to overlook the need to develop agreements that support high-quality relationships. Speed, quantity, and technical excellence are mistakenly accorded higher priority.

But by developing and consistently reinforcing agreements that build strong and healthy relationships, we fortify the fabrication of relationships that underpin excellence in leadership and organizational success.

Michael F. Broom, Pd.D., is an organizational psychologist with 45 years of experience with various people and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organization and “Power, The Infinite Game with Donald Klein.

Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for coaching and consulting for your organization at For more information on the Center for Human Systems and to check out its intensive programs and two-hour workshops, visit You’ll be surprised by the difference a single hour can make!

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