11 Types of Relationships at Work and Why They're Important

Updated September 28, 2022

When people work together, a variety of different relationships can develop. The nature of these relationships depends on the personalities and roles of the individuals involved. Learning about the different relationship types can help prepare you to form your own professional connections. In this article, we discuss what a professional relationship is and review 11 different types of workplace relationships.

Related: Colleague vs. Coworker (With Examples for Different Contexts)

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What are relationships at work?

Relationships at work are the professional connections you have with others in your place of work, including clients, colleagues, and business contacts. Your workplace relationships can include brief interactions or long-term associations that last for years of professional collaboration. Having workplace relationships allows you to build trust and develop a reputation within your professional network. When you have a workplace relationship with someone, they can vouch for your skills and facilitate future communication based on the shared history of your interactions.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

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11 types of workplace relationships

Here are several categories of relationships that you may encounter in the workplace and what to expect from each type:

1. Coworker relationships

You have a basic relationship with all of your coworkers at your workplace, from the teammates you work with every day to people in other departments that you only see at company-wide meetings. For example, when you join a company, you immediately establish a basic relationship with your colleagues by introducing yourself and learning about them. Many coworkers have a polite relationship as acquaintances, where they only know basic information about each other, such as their names and roles in the company.

Building healthy coworker relationships is important because they're often the foundation for building stronger professional interactions. Knowing general details about your colleagues can help you know who to ask about certain information, making it easier to complete your duties and accomplish tasks.

Related: 18 People Skills for a Productive Work Environment

2. Teammate relationships

You also have relationships with your direct teammates. These are people who work in your department or collaborate with you on the same projects or assignments. When you work on a team, you have individual relationship dynamics with each teammate and a group relationship dynamic that describes collective habits, norms, and expectations for the entire group.

Building successful relationships with your teammates involves learning one another's communication styles and strengths so you can work together closely and delegate tasks efficiently. As you spend more time with people on your team and complete more projects together, you can strengthen your professional relationships with your teammates and learn better ways to complete work. Having good relationships with your teammates gives you people to rely on and provides basic support during your daily duties.

3. Professionals and clients

If you have a front-facing job, your interactions with customers can lead to work relationships that significantly impact your happiness and success. The relationship between a company representative and a client is professional and respectful. As someone interacting with customers on behalf of a business, you work to provide fast responses, be attentive to the client's needs, and establish an ongoing rapport.

Forming positive relationships with clients allows you to develop trust, which facilitates future interactions. If clients recognize that you value their business and care about them, they may actively seek you out when they want to make purchases or engage with your company's services.

4. Supervisors and staff members

This professional relationship describes the interpersonal connection between you and your manager. Supervisors and managers assign work, monitor progress, and expect regular updates from the people on their team. These professionals often help determine ways in which their team members can grow or take on more responsibility. You can rely on your relationship with your manager to get guidance and feedback. If you supervise others, you can use the relationship to grow your leadership skills.

These relationships are vital to workplace satisfaction because managers create a positive work environment and set the standard for how others conduct themselves. When managers maintain open communication, they can help team members develop their skills and advance in their careers.

5. Work friendships

A work friendship is a type of relationship that is both professional and personal. When you have work friends, you're comfortable with them on a social level alongside your professional interactions. You may sit together at lunch, have passing conversations during breaks, or socialize outside the workplace. Having friendships with coworkers can improve your experience at work by developing a consistent support system.

Related: Social Skills: Definition and Examples

6. Mentors and mentees

The professional mentor-mentee relationship describes the connection between someone experienced and someone in the early learning stage of their career. The mentor often provides the mentee with wisdom, guidance, and expertise. Their relationship can become more personal as the mentor and mentee form a closer bond, demonstrating greater trust and ease of communication.

If you're seeking career growth or want to expand your skill set, you can look for a mentor in your current place of work. Your mentor can be a current manager or someone else you respect. At the same time, if you have specific experience that you wish to share with someone, offering to mentor another person in your professional network can provide you with the opportunity to develop as a leader and teacher.

Related: How To Be a Good Mentor

7. Functional relationships

At your workplace, you may have coworker relationships that serve a specific function. For instance, if you have a specific goal and one of your coworkers helps you achieve it, you have a functional relationship. Functional relationships can be closer than the average coworker relationship but may not have as many regular interactions as a teammate relationship.

For example, you may have a functional relationship with an HR representative at your workplace who can help you update your payroll information and answer questions about company policies. You form a relationship with them because their knowledge and role within the company are necessary to perform your job duties.

8. Industry relationships

You can have work relationships that extend beyond your current place of work and into your industry. When you interact with other people or businesses in your field, you form industry relationships with potential competitors or collaborators. Within these professional relationships, you primarily discuss business issues, changes and innovations in your field, avenues for career growth, and professional development opportunities.

You can meet people in your field at conferences, seminars, events, programs, or basic business interactions. For example, if you work at a retail outlet, the primary contact for your inventory supplier is someone with whom you have an industry relationship. When you encounter someone new in your industry, establishing a basic relationship as acquaintances can provide you with an introduction to pursue future business opportunities.

Related: Top 5 Networking Skills and How To Develop Them

9. Company leaders and employees

Whether you work at a small business or massive corporation, you have a basic professional relationship with company leaders. Business executives, such as founders, owners, and CEOs, usually have a limited relationship with most employees because they spend most of their time on strategic initiatives instead of day-to-day operations. The relationship between company leaders and their employees focuses on their shared values and mission for the company. It may also involve basic interactions during company meetings.

Company executives uphold their professional relationships with their teams by creating respectful employment policies and a positive company culture. As a member of the company, you contribute to a good professional relationship with the CEO by complying with company policies and contributing to the growth of the business.

10. Tentative relationships

A tentative relationship refers to a brief interaction or encounter between two or more individuals in a work-related environment. For example, a momentary greeting at a company-sponsored event is a tentative relationship because it can mark the beginning of a connection between two parties. One or both individuals may seek to develop this relationship further if they believe they can gain value from forming a deeper professional relationship.

11. Trusted relationships

A trusted relationship in the workplace is an interpersonal relationship that holds the most professional value. Based on mutual trust, these relationships are personal, solid, and highly dependable. They are special because they can last for long periods, even after one or both individuals have left the place where they originally worked together. Any professional relationship can become a trusted relationship if both people decide to get to know one another, support one another's career goals, and communicate.

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