Building relationships at work and requiring it of managers is hard for a few reasons. But mostly, because there is a lot of work to be done that seems to be much higher value and importance. Maybe it’s getting a product out, or a patch to a customer, or closing a big sale, or doing an implementation for a customer. These actions are impactful and revenue driven. It’s hard to imagine that we should shift our focus to something, or anything that might impact the achievement of these things.
What if we did set a high expectation of managers and team members having a relationship? And, we can all be clear about the word relationship: an appropriate business relationship between human beings.
A few months after I moved into a new-to-me townhouse, my furnace caught fire. (I replace my furnace every time I move now. It’s become an irrational quirk.)
The weeks after moving in were busy – unpacking, busy at the office, getting ready for the holiday season – and so I hadn’t had time to meet my neighbours. It was on the list, though. In fact, I was going to take some chips and wine around to meet people. Tomorrow, for sure, tomorrow. Okay, maybe the day after, but that day for sure. Next week. You get the idea, the day didn’t come.
Before I could introduce myself, the furnace caught fire and the fire trucks introduced me instead.
Like many catastrophic or chaotic events, all is well that ends well, but we could have scaled some efficiencies.
What if I’d taken the few hours to meet my neighbours as I’d planned. What if I prioritized my community and my self and not work or cleaning the floors or putting up decorations? What if they’d become neighbours, or even friends, and not strangers in a calmer, gentler time? Instead, these strangers offered my tea and a place to sit while the firefighters swept up the glass they’d had to break to get into my home and rescue my dog. A stranger held my dog after he was passed out of the house by a fire fighter.
The same thing applies at work. Why wait for the fire?
We can sometimes look backwards instead of forwards when it comes to doing hard things. When we have to downsize a third of the company, we build a communication plan and jump in. We are managing a change and building trust at the same time. A tall order. It takes time to recover from that, to build back up to the same or higher productivity levels.
If we take the time to build a relationship first, we can recover much more quickly. We can move back into productivity faster. We have less downtime. We reenergize faster. We can support our team so much better if we know about them as people.
It’s not easy. We do not easily build relationships with every person we meet. But we canhave a relationship with all of our employees. They won’t all be BFFs but we can be connected. Building a connection is the goal – not converting everyone into someone to have lunch with all the time or someone to play ultimate frisbee with.
Every now and then I hear a story about someone who was in an accident or had their body fail them. The doctor says something like, their recovery will be quicker or easier because they were healthy or in good shape. The effort put in at the beginning impacted a moment of crisis or chaos. Same goes here. The effort we put it helps us in the end.
And unlike a fire or an accident, hard times at work are guaranteed. No company rides the wave all of the time. No department is the best department all of the time.
It looks like this: reserve a few hours each week to spend one on one with your team members with NO agenda. Figure out a regular cadence that works for you and the team member. You may only meet with someone you know well every month, while a newer team member you meet with each week. And the rest of your team falls to a biweekly cadence. You get the idea.
If you’re the kind of person who could very nearly die without an agenda – start with this one – find something the two of you have in common in thirty minutes together where there is no work talk. In the next meeting, find something they do that you know nothing about and learn about it for the next time you get together. Do not talk about work – this can be the hardest part because it’s the easiest thing to do, we already have it in common because we work at the same place. Talk about them. And, a little about you. Create a common space to be two people together.
Imagine what you could do with these hours a week? Imagine how much money you could make from a customer. Imagine how much coding you could do. Imagine how many calls you could make. And then let it go. Learning about your team, building a solid foundation, creating a common space is worth it. When you need to call on it, the money you feel like you missed out on or the coding or the customer calls will be right there.