I feel we need some clarity here: relationship building in a business context isn’t about the relationship, it’s about being able to pull in the same direction for the sake of advancing shared interests. Why is this important? Because if it’s about the relationship first, then social and political pressures can take over – one of the key barriers to social alignment.
Take this fictional example of a conversation between two Directors of the same company, below. It’s quite an extreme example to make the point:
A – Did you get the IT security audit report that was circulated to all Directors?
B – Oh, that. I’ve got tons going on right now – you don’t seriously want me to go through it with a fine-toothed comb do you?
A – It’s really just the key points you need to get clear on.
B – OK, I’ll try to take a look.
A – Great. Thanks.
Let’s look at what really happened in that conversation:
- Person A makes a direct enquiry
- Person B appeals for empathy to avoid responsibility
- Person A attempts placates Person B and minimize conflict
- Person B closes down the exchange by showing minor commitment
- Person A concedes, implying a satisfactory outcome.
The impacts of this conversation, hypothetically speaking of course, are as follows:
- The organization’s IT security risks are probably not going to get the management attention they need – and the implications of that are not positive
- Person B is showing a flippant disregard for the needs of his colleague and their shared responsibilities, which undermines trust and cooperation; Person A allows person B to push his own needs above hers. Both will lead to disconnects that will likely create negative outcomes for the business.
There are echoes of Lencioni’s rather excellent Five Dysfunctions of a team in this example, which again focus on what’s needed for the business, rather than what’s needed to ‘get on’:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results.
Now let’s look at what the conversation might look like if it was conducted more in service of advancing the shared goal (execution of the business strategy):
A- Did you get the IT Security audit findings report that was circulated to all Directors? There are some key actions in there.
Honest response and request for requirements
B- Yes but I’m afraid I haven’t gone through it all yet. What do you need?
A- Can you come back to me to verify that your team is able to take on the recommended actions that concern you – by the end of the month?
Commitment and validation
B- Yes ok, I’ll do that. I know this is important stuff.
Appreciation and support
A – Thanks. Let me know if anything doesn’t make sense.
The impacts with conversation version 2 are quite different:
- The IT security risks will likely be given sufficient management attention
- The working relationship between person A and person B is open, respectful and positive, which is likely to stimulate positive outcomes for the business.
Our social alignment work at Mirror Mirror shows that when interactions between team members are open, inclusive, and respectful – with the shared goal top of mind – then clarity and positivity go up, risks and costs go down.
Social alignment is powerful stuff. So, the question is, how can you and your team develop the skills needed to handle your working relationships, putting the business first?