Developing working relationships

Good relationships within the workplace are as important as doing the day-to-day job, particularly when it comes to creating an environment where all can thrive and perform at their best. 

The benefit of good working relationships

Some relationships are more fundamental than others and should be cultivated. The relationship between a manager and their team, or in your case between your postdoc(s) and yourself, is essential for their engagement.

‘The nature of the relationship between supervisor and postdocs significantly impacts on how postdocs perceive that their research is progressing. Of those postdocs who rated the professional relationship with their supervisor as average to poor, 62% stated that their research is progressing either average to below average expectation (according to their own perception), and only 38% stated that their research is progressing better than expected or as expected. In contrast, of those postdocs who rated the professional relationship with their supervisor as excellent or good, approximately 30% stated that their research is progressing either average to below average expectations whereas approximately 75% state that their research is progressing better than expected or as expected.

Scaffidi and Berman 2011

Starting to create good working relationships 

At the start of your relationship, it might be a good idea to establish some common ground to work on and build upon. In the video below, Denise Chilton discusses some aspects you might want to consider. 

  • Think about how you and your postdoc might work well together, what works for each of you. 
  • Understand each others’ preferences, in particular regarding forms and means of communication (email/phone/instant message/in-person; big picture/details) 
  • Set the tone of your relationship by having a fruitful induction process

Building on your working relationships 

Good working relationship are built on core values, such as trust and respect. In addition, self-awareness will help all parties involved in taking responsibility for their actions: you should aim to practice, model and teach self-reflection to your postdoc. Find here (link to self-awareness tools - Reflect) some tools for your postdoc to build their self-awareness. These will help them to feel more confident in their decision-making process and support them in their professional development.  

Other key points to keep in mind when establishing solid foundations for your working relationship with your postdoc are:

  1. Create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and welcomed, including your international staff members
  2. Support your staff wellbeing as much as your own.  
  3. Keep the communication lines open and honest, allowing your postdoc to address their career aspirations, skills development and general support they might be needing.  
  4. Provide constructive feedback that empowers your postdocs. Learn how to put this into practice in this video. 

It’s been really important for me, for my group, to help people realise what skills they have, and allowing them to talk about their ideas within the group. […] I am very much about them discussing what they would like to do, and how they would like to do it, and allowing them to express their ideas. […] It’s about having that open conversation with them. And I think that the more open I’ve been with people who have worked with me, the more they’re willing to speak or they’re willing to suggest things. I think that helps fostering a good relationship.”

Dr Richard Rainbow, Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, University of Liverpool

References

Scaffidi, A. K. and Berman, J. E. 2011. A positive postdoctoral experience is related to quality supervision and career mentoring, collaborations, networking and a nurturing research environment. Higher Education, 62, 685-698.

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