We work at an insane pace. Each day we go from meeting to meeting, read and answer a ton of e-mails, and attempt to digest large amounts of information to make the best decisions possible. We tackle tough assignments with the time we have left, and we can’t move fast enough. As a result, we often don’t spend enough time building relationships.
Social media has connected us in ways like never before, but leveraging social media alone is not a substitute for building relationships. Neither is attending all of those meetings or periodically interacting with colleagues in the hallway.
Building relationships is especially important during change management initiatives, since communication is necessary in moving Agile organizations forward. Whether we are managers or individual contributors, we get things done through other people, often by influencing them. This requires effort, but it doesn’t have to be a painful process. In fact, building effective professional relationships is relatively easy with just a little bit of focus.
As consultants, we have to constantly adapt our work approaches to the various preferences of both teammates and the client staff with whom we collaborate. I recommend trying the following steps if you want to build more solid working relationships:
1. Identify: What Makes You Tick?
We can learn to connect with others more effectively and build stronger relationships if we're aware of our own interaction style. Self-awareness is the key! For example, do you value:
- Data and information, and prefer to go slower and think things through?
- Outgoing and talkative collaboration; and prefer to solve problems by having conversations with others?
- Working in teams and building consensus, and want everyone to get along?
- A “get-it-done” attitude, and prefer it when others get to the point?
Of course, there are many more examples of collaborative style preferences. Building better working relationships must begin with noticing these preferences and behaviors in the people you work with. You may be thinking, “ok this makes sense…but how do I do it?”
2. Observe: What are the Work Styles of Others?
According to Lockwood Leadership International, “Seventy-five percent of the people with whom we deal with have preferences different from our own.” Once you’ve identified your own working style, learn to spot preferences in how other people behave or interact.
Interacting with others based on their preferences and not yours helps to create an environment in which everyone is open to listening and accepting ideas. It’s not about compromising your position, beliefs or values. It’s about putting relationships first.
3. Plan a Custom Approach
Based on your teammates’ preferences, plan your approach for interaction including what you are going to say or do and how you are going to say it or do it. Make sure to think this through.
An example: Let’s say warranty claims for your company are higher for one product than others, and it’s your responsibility to solve the problem. Your preferred interaction style is to immediately tackle this assignment and get it done right away. You don’t want to waste any time, so you’d like to “volunteer” four members of your team and give them their assignments. But you’re not sure how to solve the problem and you have a lot of other priorities.
Using the above interaction style examples, let’s strategize on how you could approach each person:
- Dave values data and information, so you give him warranty claims details for each of the products, highlighting the product at issue so he has time to digest the information and formulate questions. You then set up a meeting to answer Dave’s questions.
- You haven’t met Emily before, but you’ve heard she is an extrovert. You set up a meeting and start off by asking her about her family as she has pictures of her children on her desk. Although it doesn’t come natural to you, you focus on making a personal connection through conversation. Since you’ve decided to form a team of experts, you ask Emily to lead a sub-team who interviews customers to determine the root cause of the warranty problems.
- Rob is also outgoing and has worked for the company for over 10 years. He cares deeply about his coworkers and wants to do a good job. You decide to approach Rob in a similar way as Emily, except that you allow more time to answer Rob’s questions so he can get comfortable with the assignment. You ask Rob to play the role of the project team facilitator, as Rob is good at asking the right questions and building consensus.
- Diane has a get-it-done attitude, similar to yours, so you schedule a 15-minute meeting with her to ask her to be the project manager because you know Diane will keep the team on track and ensure the project is wrapped up within 30 days. Diane appreciates that you value her time and get to the point during the meeting.
Once you’ve completed this exercise and interacted with your team, evaluate how it went. Hopefully, it helped get the project done better and faster.
Don’t expect a perfect outcome after your first attempt. With practice, you will become an Agile organizations expert and you’ll see your relationships improve and expand.