The quest to build more effective teams has a long history. The arrival of “Scientific Management” early in the twentieth century, with its focus on getting people to work with machine-like efficiency, precipitated a more people-centric approach to work groups and the implementation of the “Human Relations School”. World War II was a significant catalyst for post-war research into the psychology of group dynamics and social change, emphasizing the importance of relationships between work group effectiveness and wellbeing. The next 30 years saw the emergence of a variety of models of team effectiveness from Tuckman’s “Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing”, to the Deming and Juran inspired, and Japanese implemented, “Total Quality Management”.

Winning in hyper-competitive global markets demands that organizations tap into, and make sense of, diverse skills, expertise, and experience. The realization of what can be accomplished with many minds together has led to teams becoming the essential building block of organizations.

Leadership theory and practice in the second-half of the 20th Century was dominated by a focus on formal leaders and how these individuals were seemingly single-handedly transforming their hierarchical organizations. Somewhat ironically, it was the restructuring, downsizing, flattening, and reinvention efforts of these leaders that laid the foundation for the fall of hierarchy and the rise of teams. Winning in hyper-competitive global markets demands that organizations tap into, and make sense of, diverse skills, expertise, and experience. The realization of what can be accomplished with many minds together has led to teams becoming the essential building block of organizations.

The challenge for many organizations is that, unlike their prolific use of sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) tools and data analysis to support customer interactions, the use of technology to support team effectiveness has not kept up with the need for better team performance. The emergence of CRM techniques and tools transformed the way organizations approached their interactions with customers. Fundamentally, CRM uses feedback and data analysis to improve customer retention and drive sales growth (Bain & Co., 2015). Team relationship management (TRM) fills that same need for techniques and tools to enhance team effectiveness. Like CRM, TRM uses feedback and data analysis about key team member relationships to understand and influence the critical team processes that lead to more effective teams.

Team Relationship Management – Bringing Teams into the 21st Century

Team Relationship Management (TRM) is an approach to improving the effectiveness of an organization’s teams and the wellbeing of the people on those teams. It uses feedback and data analysis about key relationships: between team members and their team leader; among teammates; and with related, interdependent teams to understand and influence critical team processes and behaviors (Hurley, 2017).

TRM origins are at the intersection of work motivation, employee engagement, and team performance. The TRM heuristic measures people’s experiences versus their expectations to understand relationships gaps. Research and practice show that gaps between people’s experiences and expectations can fracture relationships and diminish performance. Closing those fractures builds the strong trusting relationships that enable greater team effectiveness and individual wellbeing.

A powerful, recurring theme in my research on team performance was the impact of team member relationships on overall team performance. In one recent meta-analysis of 3,198 teams, the authors demonstrated that teammate relationships based upon shared leadership in pursuing goals have a strong, positive correlation to team performance (D’Innocenzo, Mathieu, & Kukenberger, 2014). Understanding each team member’s expectations of his or her teammate’s contribution to the team goals—versus what they experienced—provides critical insights into individual performance in the context of the team. Those lessons can be applied to any team in any organization by following these principles of TRM:

✅  Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Focus on understanding the expectations team members have of each other, versus their actual experience, in the context of achieving the team’s goals.
✅  Mapping experience-expectation gaps is like radar for team effectiveness and wellbeing. Unaddressed experience-expectation gaps across key relationships leads to deteriorating relationships and disengagement. As a team leader, it is critical to have heads-up on team dynamics that indicate issues that will impede effectiveness.
✅  Get feedback often and use it to create the individual and team coaching conversations that lead to actions that close gaps. Closing gaps builds the strong, trusting relationships that lead to better performance and wellbeing.

✅ Rinse and repeat.

TRM for Your Team

The reality for most team leaders and their teams consists of days overloaded with meetings, ad-hoc tasks, and looming deadlines. As most anyone who has experienced the implementation of a new CRM platform will tell you, adding new processes and asking people to change behaviors can feel like being asked to change tires on a moving car.

While there are no magic wands or quick fixes when it comes to building an exceptional team, there are habits that accelerate a team towards that goal. Click To Tweet

The key to successfully implementing TRM is focusing on developing the habit of continuously identifying and closing gaps between what team members expect of their team leader, teammates, and related teams, and their actual experience. With a little effort, any team can take on and develop one new behavior. By adopting the habit that highlights the most significant issues impeding team effectiveness, you set the stage for continuous improvement of both team effectiveness and individual wellbeing.

While there are no magic wands or quick fixes when it comes to building an exceptional team, there are habits that accelerate a team towards that goal. By focusing on the one habit that directly influences both effectiveness and wellbeing you can take a big step towards team excellence. In the words of one of the world’s earliest team coaches, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle.


D’Innocenzo, L., Mathieu J. E., and Kukenberger, M.R. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of Different Forms of Shared Leadership–Team Performance Relations. Journal of Management. 42, 1964 – 1991. doi:10.1177/0149206314525205

Hurley, J. S. (2017). Engagement strategies for catalyzing IT sales team performance in Asia. Available from Dissertations & Theses @ Walden University. (1914683844).

“Management Tools – Customer Relationship Management – Bain & Company”. bain.com. Retrieved 23 November 2015.

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