4 Steps to Relationship Breakdowns

4 Steps to Relationship Breakdowns - IMA

By Mark Samuel

When it comes to team relationship breakdowns, leaders often try implementing trust-building exercises, style assessments and communication processes. But so often, those relationship breakdowns don’t experience any permanent shift. Why is that?

There are four areas in which a breakdown can occur: the ends, the means, the coordination and relationships. Let’s take a look at each one in detail.

The Ends

The “ends” refers to your desired business or team outcomes. When there’s breakdown here at the ends, it affects every other area all the way down to relationships, because if you don’t have agreement on where you’re headed, you’ll naturally have different ideas of how to go about what kinds of actions to take.  Once you’re clear on the ends, you can move on to the means.

The Means

The “means” refers to your business strategy as well as your priorities. At a high level, you can ask yourself: Where do we get the leverage for accomplishing our business outcomes? What’s the strategy we’re going to use to get there? What does that mean in terms of all our different roles and responsibilities for accomplishing our business outcomes?


Coordination refers to implementation or execution, including things like planning, decision-making and problem-solving.

Coordination also involves accountability. Can you count on each other, regardless of functional area or level in the organization to do your parts, keep your commitments and move things forward in a timely manner?


The last place in which breakdowns can occur are in relationships, including things like style and communication differences.

But remember, if you’re not aligned on your ends, by definition, you won’t be aligned on your means, coordination or relationships either. If you don’t agree on what you’re trying to accomplish, how can you agree on priority and strategy? When you’re not aligned on where you’re going, the other areas of implementation will inevitably suffer. You won’t be able to build trust or have effective communication if you’re not even talking about the same end goals to begin with.

If you are in alignment about your ends, then the next place a breakdown can occur is your means. If you’re not aligned on your strategy and priorities, the coordination about how to implement that strategy and make progress on those priorities won’t work. Once you are aligned on your means, the next place the breakdown can occur is in coordination.

There are a lot of areas of coordination in which a breakdown can occur: Are you including the right people in planning and decision-making? Are you surfacing and solving problems creatively and holding each other accountable for business outcomes? If you’re not coordinating well, your relationships will also suffer. Frustrations will build and trust will be broken.

No matter where a breakdown occurs, it will always show up in relationships, but the root cause is often somewhere further up the line. This is why focusing on team building and relationship building activities, styles inventories and communication improvement might make things better for a short time but will inevitably devolve as old issues resurface. 

Understanding each other’s styles and communication preferences is important, but if you try to solve the problem at a relationship level when it’s really a coordination or strategy breakdown, the problem will inevitably resurface. 

Originally published in Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/12/08/four-steps-to-diagnose-team-relationship-breakdowns/?sh=73897b167d55

And on the B STATE Blog – https://bstate.com/2021/03/03/diagnose-team-relationship-breakdowns/

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