3 Levels of Relationship Between Manager and Employee (Any Which One Actually Works)

Dr. Edgar Schein, the foremost expert on organizational culture, writes about the three levels of relationship between managers and team members.

Let’s first define relationship: To have a certain ability to predict someone’s behavior. The greater the relationship, the greater the ability to predict someone’s behavior.

This being said, here are the 3 levels of relationship leaders/managers can have with their employees/team members.

  1. Level 1 – Distance Relationship: Keep your professional distance. Don’t get too close to your clients, employees, team members. Keep them at arms length. See the person only as the role they play on your team or in your organization.
  2. Level 2 – Helping Relationship: Treat your clients, employees and team members as actual human beings. Get personal (not too personal) with those you lead. Not too personal…but, personal enough. See them as human beings with human feelings and emotions.
  3. Level 3 – Intimate Relationship: “Sleeping” with your clients, employees or team members. Those you lead become close, personal friends or lovers. This intimacy leads to favoritism and nepotism.

Dr. Schein argues Level 1 Relationship is dead, although it remains alive and well. You understand.

Level 3 is dangerous and leads to a loss of trust and, more than likely, your position.

Level 2 is the sweet spot. Treat the people you lead (or clients you work with) as human beings. Know who they are. Know who and what they care about. Know what motivates them.

Care about them.

Once you understand them – through your caring and knowing – you better understand how to help them.

Then… help them.

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