How to Build Lasting Relationships

December 2, 2022


An essential component of implementation efforts is partners effectively working together. This is easier said than done. The relationships that we have are a direct reflection of learned experiences over periods of time. These relationships are cultivated through lived experiences. Partners must build and maintain relationships to continue successful implementation efforts. So how do you build these relationships that are critical to the success of implementation efforts? We have to consider the building blocks of relationships. The three pillars of relationship building are clearly communicated expectations, mutual respect, and trust. If done properly, partners can build healthy and positive relationships, which are a major key to achieving desired outcomes that are mutually agreed upon.

Clear Expectations

“Implementation support practitioners advance the sustainability of programs and practices by helping communities to develop a shared vision and mutual accountability and by promoting existing relationships, problem solving and resource sharing” (Metz, et al., 2020, p. 5).

First, we must ensure that we are all speaking the same language. A pet parent appreciates the love and companionship they receive from their pet, while the pet appreciates that companionship and care from their parent. The pet expects that they will be fed and cared for throughout the day, while the pet parent expects that when they walk into their home, their pet will meet them at the door to express their love for them. The way to guarantee this is to clarify each person’s role and responsibilities and clearly define expectations. These expectations must be mutually agreed-upon and communicated. Whether it’s a Terms of Reference or a memorandum of understanding, partners must come to a consensus on their ways of work. It is not enough to just set these expectations; it is also important to meet them. Meeting the expectation demonstrates that parties are communicating, which is foundational to building a relationship. Protocols can be used to establish this bi-directional communication. The goal is to ensure that partners understand what is expected and the steps they must take to achieve the agreed-upon outcomes. 

Mutual Respect

“Value of community, close relationships with people, strong sense of purpose, and self efficacy are needed to manage relationships and expectations responsibly; ensuing conversations, collaborative relationships and 'decolonizing work'” (Villanueva, 2021, p. 135).

Have you ever considered the relationship between people and household plants? People plant seeds, water them and place them in areas to receive sunlight to grow. Humans nurture plants, but how frequently do we consider how plants nurture us? We have photosynthesis which is extremely important. Air purification, stress relief, and improved focus are also benefits of houseplants. This relationship is mutually beneficial to both parties. We have to respect the needs of our plants for them to survive and provide benefits to us. Respect goes a long way in a relationship. Once partners demonstrate that they will hold true to their word and follow through with their responsibilities, mutual respect is earned. Earning respect is extremely difficult, but meeting expectations is a strong lever towards earning that respect. Demonstrating reliability, consistently following through, and meeting expectations communicates to partners that individuals are upholding their commitment and want to reach outcomes. This approach to reaching the goal communicates to each partner that we respect each other's work and are in this situation together.


“Trust is perhaps more than anything else the critical element that allows transformational coaching to work” (Aguilar, 2020, p. 160).

Trust in working relationships takes time and is based on previous experiences. Continually meeting expectations leads to trust. Members of teams have relationships that are extremely important. You have to count on teammates to uphold their roles for the team to be successful. Imagine a spotter on a cheer team has a lapse in focus during a stunt. This could be extremely problematic. These relationships require everyone to focus on the task to achieve a goal. Trust demonstrates that partners have a comfort level of working with one another, that they value each other's work, and believe that they each will continue to perform their assigned tasks at a high level. As a relationship grows, partners have more opportunities to show that they have the willingness to take the necessary steps required to get to the desired outcome, which over time, leads to and maintains trust. This communicates that partners not only value their own work but the work of the whole, which by design will lead to positive outcomes.  


Relationships matter and are the key to successful implementation. Practitioners must understand that relationship building is not an easy task, but that it takes time to build. Much like building a home, it requires a strong foundation and the belief that relationships are the foundation of implementation efforts. It is not enough just to build the relationship, it must be maintained and sustained. Building and sustaining relationships is an extremely important component of successful implementation efforts. The work can only happen with clearly defined and communicated expectations, mutual respect, and trust. Whether you are a pet parent, a plant owner, or on a cheer team, we know that meeting agreed-upon expectations leads to respect, and respect leads to trust. Combined, these three pillars are the foundational components to build positive relationships that last and lead to achieving outcomes.


Now that you have learned about building and maintaining relationships, you should take an opportunity to try to design your blueprint for relationship building. You can read the NIRN blog post around the importance of relationships for successful implementation. Relationship building is important because that leads to effective teams, which are made up of multiple relationships. We know communication matters and a Terms of Reference is a great way to get everyone on the same page. Review the lesson on how to grow and sustain relationships to continue learning about building relationships together. Using these tools is a fast track to building relationships for highly effective teams that lead to improved implementation efforts. 



Aguilar, E. (2020). Coaching for equity: Conversations that change practice. Jossey-Bass. 

Metz, A., Louison, L., Burke, K., Albers, B., & Ward, C. (2020). Implementation support practitioner profile: Guiding principles and core competencies for implementation practice. National Implementation Research Network, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Villanueva, E. (2021). Decolonizing wealth: Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.