The human desire for kinship, such as friendship or love, is almost universal in our species. This dates back to the early days of human evolution, where strong emotional attachments lead to a higher chance of survival. Because of this, the need for companionship developed as one of the most basic human physiological needs.
However, how we related to other people, and how this affects our abilities to function in groups is something that is learned individually as we grow up. Our first encounter with groups and social relationships is, for most people, our families. Familial structure is different throughout the world and global cultures, but the initial understanding of how individual members in a group relate to each other comes from familial ties.
As we grow up, we are exposed to more people. Outside our immediate and extended families, we come into contact with our parents’ friends and coworkers, as well as other children in our neighborhoods and schools. These relationships begin to influence how we understand social interaction. From these early social bonds, we begin to form a sense for morality, an understanding of right and wrong behavior, and begin to learn how our actions will affect others.1
Now, you may be wondering, how do these basic interpersonal relationships affect a group’s ability to work together. Simply put, the stronger the interpersonal relationships, the better the lines of communication between group members.
“In work contexts, high-quality relationships are key channels through which members engage in learning behaviors that help the organization attain its goals.2″
Strong interpersonal relationships help nurture a support system within groups. Imagine that all relationships have a certain level of emotional “carrying capacity,” or a limited amount of both positive and negative emotion that they can carry without feeling strained.2 Stronger relationships have a higher amount of emotional capacity that they can carry. Because of this, stronger relationships lend themselves to better support systems and stronger groups.
While all group members bring within them their own personal history of interpersonal relationships, it is important for a group leader to be able to understand and reconcile the strengths and weaknesses within their group. Being able to identify where lines of communication are being cut off and encourage change within the group is important. Equally important is recognizing the impact strong emotional connections can have on a group’s resilience and productivity.
The relationship between the leader and the rest of the group is one of the most important of all. Click here to learn more about leadership.
¹Carmeli, A., Brueller, D., & Dutton, J. E. (2009). Learning behaviours in the workplace: The role of high‐quality interpersonal relationships and psychological safety. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 26(1), 81-98.
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