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5 Ways Affiliative Leadership Boosts Team Performance


Is your leadership style getting the best performance out of your team?

Over the years, I’ve asked this question countless times to many different businesses and, nine times out of ten, they come back with the same answer: No.

The question then becomes, how can you create high performing teams that deliver exceptional results?

One answer is affiliative leadership.

Way back in 2002, Daniel Goleman listed affiliative leadership as one of his six leadership styles and 16 years on, it’s still a vital cog is business success. An affiliative leader is someone who “promotes harmony among his or her followers and helps to solve any conflict”, and the less conflict you have in a team, the better results you’ll see.

Despite its importance, affiliative leadership is all too often forgotten about when it comes to managing teams. It can be easy to take a hard-lined approach to management when you’re desperate for results

I’m here to show you why anyone who wants to improve their team’s performance needs to be taking affiliative leadership seriously. Are you ready to learn how you can inspire your team to higher performance?

Here are five reasons you’ll want to become an affiliative leader:

  1. They Create an Emotional Bond
  2. They Improve Communication
  3. They Encourage Reciprocation
  4. They Increase Flexibility
  5. They Generate Team Spirit

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1. You Can Create an Emotional Bond

Create an Emotional Bond

The main reason behind a team’s low performance is low engagement. Teams that are not engaged with each other and not invested their business’s success are less likely to be high performing.

One of the main reasons that individuals and teams perform better is because they are emotionally bonded to their business.

Think about it, if your team has no emotional bond to the company they’re working for, how can you trust them to be motivated to drive their performance to new heights.

Wouldn’t you perform to a higher standard if you had a real emotional investment in what you were working towards?

Through affiliative leadership, you can help to move your team members to a place where their job stops becoming a chore and starts becoming a passion.

So, how is this achieved? Well, in order to build a team that is emotionally invested in their job, you need to know what makes them tick – what motivates them, and demotivates them.

You can do this by asking you team members five simple questions:

  1. What was your best day at work in the last three months?
  2. What was your worst day at work in the last three months?
  3. What is the best manager relationship you’ve ever had?
  4. What’s the best recognition you’ve ever had?
  5. When in your career have you learnt the most?

With these questions you can learn exactly what your team’s professional strengths are and start playing to them. This will lead to a team that wants to perform well and does perform well.

“Imagine a world where people wake up and feel inspired to work.” - Simon Sinek

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2. You Can Improve Communication

Improve Communication

Most business leaders will tell you today that the main driving force behind building high performance teams is communication.

The importance of great communication is most evident in its absence. After all, 57% of projects fail due to “breakdown in communications”.

So, now that we know just how important communication is to driving high performance, what does it have to do with affiliative leaders?

Well, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that affiliative leaders, who know the value the nurturing of their teams, are big on communication. These leaders create an environment of trust where communication thrives and teams are not afraid to work together to find more efficient ways of operating.

If you want your team to perform well, they need to be comfortable communicating with each other and, to feel comfortable, they all need to know that makes each other mad, sad and glad.

MAD SAD GLAD is a useful tool to help you understand your team and its members and also guides how you communicate with each other. Simply invite your team to a workshop and ask what makes them mad, sad and glad, record the results on a table and review regularly to ensure you are all working well together.

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3. You Can Encourage Reciprocation

Encourage Reciprocation

In any walk of life, if someone is generous and kind, they encourage generosity and kindness in return.

In his book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’, Robert Cialdini makes reference to the “rule of reciprocation”. In simple terms, this refers to the tendency in all of us to want to repay or reciprocate the giving of a gift, a kind deed, or any other act of generosity.

When we’re treated well, we feel compelled to do the same in return.

It is exactly the same in business. If a leader presents themself as someone who wants to help the team, that team will be more willing to reciprocate this behaviour and perform to the benefit of the leader and business.

This concept follows on from the emotional bonding that affiliative leaders form between the team and the goals they are striving towards. By placing a focus on showcasing your team’s achievements, you encourage them to return the favour by working to the best of their ability and generating great results.

All this means is that you build an environment where your team can thrive and success is inevitable.

To create a team in which members want to work for each other, and for you, you need to create a positive team climate. This can be done using team flows which creates a positive team climate. Team flows are a framework, developed by Wyn Llewellyn, which I have used many times to great results.

You can invite your team to a workshop where they think about what actions you can all take for each of the following elements:

Focus - ensuring your teams have a clear understanding of business goals and direction, why they are important, and how they contribute to achievement.

Learning - ensuring teams and individuals take opportunities to grow and develop through training and self-development, and take responsibility for sharing work based learning with others.

Opportunity - ensuring that teams are able to utilise the full expertise and capability of every team member, and have the autonomy to do so.

Worth - ensuring teams are widely recognised for their capability and achievement, praised and thanked for their efforts and results, and appropriately rewarded for their contribution.

Support - ensuring that every team feels it has the resources, information and management support and commitment it needs to be able to perform at the highest level.

For the best results, this framework should be used on a regular basis.

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4. You Can Increase Flexibility

Increase Flexibility

The more flexibility a team has in their work, the more free they feel and the better they’ll perform. This isn’t a concept that is widely implemented in the business world but I’ll get into why flexibility in work is key.

A flexible working environment is exactly the kind of space that an affiliative leader creates. Autonomy is key for this type of leader. By demonstrating the value you place on your team’s independence and increasing flexibility in their roles, you empower them to take the reigns and, in turn, perform better.

Think about it this way: if teams and individuals feel they are too structured in their work, they are less likely to go outside of that structure and beyond what is expected of them, meaning they will not perform higher than you expect or allow them to. By giving them autonomy and letting them work on their own accord, you liberate your team so they feel they are working for themselves.

This creates a happier environment, which is pretty important when you consider that a University of Warwick study stated “happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers provided 10% less productive.”

Plus, teams that work when they want and how they want are also less likely to make errors or suffer stress-related performance drops.

Affiliative leaders throw the ball into their team’s court, giving them more control over how they work. Try to be responsive to your team. Listen to them and solve any problems they might have. Taking a hands-off approach doesn’t mean you can’t engage with and learn from your team.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” - John F Kennedy

To start this process, you can invite your team to a workshop where you introduce them to the Disney Technique and the idea that everyone needs to be a Dreamer, Realist and Critic.

Here’s how it works…

Essentially, a team can’t perform to its potential without all three characteristics. If you have dreamers and no realists, your wacky ideas will not be refined into a tangible result and, without a critic, those results won’t be questioned

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5. You Can Generate Team Spirit

Generate Team Spirit

By increasing team communication, work flexibility and the emotional bond your team has with the business, affiliative leaders are able to generate an unparalleled team spirit.

Morale within a team is vital for overall performance. A team that works as individuals, will never perform as well as a team that works as a collective effort.

This kind of working environment will ensure individuals stay a part of the team longer, which cuts recruitment costs. If your team doesn’t get along, you’ll most likely have a higher turnover of members. This can cost a business dearly when it comes to performance and is something that affiliative leaders, by their nature, steer away from.

Affiliative leaders generate brilliant team spirit by creating a harmonious and comfortable atmosphere. When your team wants to work for the leader AND the other team members, you’ll soon benefit from a higher performance.

My Thoughts...

I am a huge advocate of affiliative leadership. Gone are the days of the great dictator who demands high performance from his team! Today, leading a team to success is more about nurturing them to become the high performers you want them to be. If they feel forced, they will be demotivated and perform worse.

Why wouldn’t you want to take a more hands-off approach and build a harmonious team that’s motivated to succeed for each other?

When it comes to the leadership of your teams, the amazing results that come with high-performing teams are waiting to be unlocked. It’s up to you and the leadership style you adopt to become the key.

If you aren't sure how to become an affiliative leader and lead your team to self-motivated success, why not come and spend a day with us exploring how other organisations and leaders are doing it at our next Employee Experience Festival - Ex Fest @ Successfactory.

Every success


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About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!