Leaders set an example for how to create a good working relationship. All of your relationships have commonalities that make them work—and commonalities that cause problems. One relationship you might not have considered as a model for good teamwork is a good marriage.

What makes a good marriage? You can spend thousands of hours searching the web, television, podcasts, books and magazines researching the answer to that one! A simple, neutral site (read: not about the sex) about the basis for a happy marriage, WebMD, includes the following three points:

  • The couple thinks of reasons to be together.
  • The couple keeps separate lives.
  • The couple remembers marriage requires more maintenance than a car.

Interestingly enough, these three points also apply to teams. However, I have a different and hopefully helpful view on this, filtered through the lens of what I’ve learned as a married person for an aggregate of over four decades!

My first marriage lasted well over a decade but ended in divorce. Why wasn’t it successful? A multitude of reasons including youth, immaturity, impulsivity, unwillingness to compromise, selfishness, and self-centeredness on both of our parts. The bottom line? Just a bad match, despite producing a beautiful son.

My second (and last) marriage is in its 28th year and going strong. Why? Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned and put into practice that might be helpful to teams:

  • We make decisions about who does what based on who loves/hates the task the most. We never have to explain if either claims to be the biggest task lover or hater.
  • We defer to the other when the other has more expertise, knowledge, and experience—unless #1 prevails.
  • We never (or at least valiantly try to never) attack, accuse or malign the other.
  • We do not tell each other everything.
  • We have separate and together lives.
  • We have a deep and abiding respect for each other’s talents, quirks and occasional and inexplicably screwy ideas.
  • We try always to use I-messages and dialogue-encouraging statements, such as, I’m feeling…, I’m concerned.., Help me understand… or Tell me more, etc.

What can teams learn or adapt from what I’ve learned from marriage?

Find out who loves/hates what and then redistribute the tasks.Why assign things to people that hate doing them? Or miss the opportunity for a stellar performance from folks who love to do them? That’s dumb.

Recognize your team’s strengths (expertise) and work with that as a basis for taking care of business. Don’t ask your finance guy to write a creative brief. Don’t ask marketing to oversee accounting. If you have a former engineer on the team, don’t give the project design to the business major. Work with people’s strengths and use these to get the best work from the team as a whole.

Remind your team of the Golden Rule. Teams build on a foundation of trust. Be sure everyone understands how to build trust and what behavior destroys trust.

Teach your team the “I feel” statement. Learning how to express your concerns in a non-accusatory way is beneficial to ANY relationship, work, home or otherwise!

Put efficiency as a goal for communication. If you want everyone well-informed but not bogged down, emphasize and praise efficiency in communication whenever possible. That which gets rewarded gets done.

Give your team their space. Micromanaging is for preschool and prison. Don’t breathe down your team’s neck. Give them a task and get out of their way while they do it.

Create an environment that is forgiving and tolerant. Be sure your team knows you are rooting for their success and that you believe in your team’s ability to reach it. When mistakes happen, handle them with care and focus on what the team can learn from the situation.

Use your personal experiences to enhance your business experiences. Although how you treat your spouse is going to be decidedly different from how you treat your co-workers, there are more similarities there than you might think.

What would you add to the list?