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Exploring Relational Work: Lessons from Tesla
July 3, 2024

Business landscape is rapidly evolving, interpersonal skills are crucial across all departments, not just in sales and human resources. At Tesla, a company known for its ground-breaking innovations and disruptive approach to the automotive industry, this principle is particularly evident.

Tesla’s executives have demonstrated that relational know-how encompasses a broader range of abilities than many executives realise. Like Musk’s ability to articulate complex technological concepts to the public, some individuals excel at translating high-level ideas for mass consumption.

Tesla’s success can be attributed, in part, to its recognition that employees perform best when their work aligns closely with their interests and skills. By considering employees’ relational strengths when making personnel decisions and project assignments, Tesla has created a highly productive and innovative work environment.

Similar findings were discovered by the authors Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, after their psychological assessments of over 7,000 business professionals. They identified four key dimensions of relational work:

  1. Influence: The ability to persuade and motivate others.
  2. Interpersonal facilitation: Skill in resolving conflicts and fostering collaboration, essential in the fast-paced, high-pressure work environment.
  3. Relational creativity: The capacity to generate innovative ideas through social interaction, vital for continuous product development.
  4. Team leadership: The aptitude for guiding and inspiring groups, is critical for managing diverse and specialized teams.

To build a well-balanced team, managers may want to consider these four dimensions when hiring and assigning roles. During interviews, candidates’ relational skills can be assessed through targeted questions. For instance, to gauge relational creativity, an interviewer might ask a candidate to describe their favourite innovative product design and explain its effectiveness.

Understanding these four dimensions may enable leaders to:

  • Optimise employee performance
  • Provide appropriate recognition and rewards
  • Assist staff in setting meaningful career goals
  • Make informed decisions about their own professional development

By embracing this multifaceted approach to relational work, Tesla continues to push the boundaries of innovation while maintaining a dynamic and effective workforce. As the company expands its reach in sustainable energy and transportation, these principles of people management and leadership will undoubtedly play a crucial role in its ongoing success.

So if you are planning to have a team meeting next time, apart from work, use that time to also create a space for conversations by asking open-ended questions concerning your team’s likings and values. Throw a question about their favourite football team or their recent experience at a new restaurant. Ask about their personal projects and why do they like being part of that. It goes a long way.