Want Efficient Execution? Make Relationship Building an Explicit Priority

user Andrew Blum
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All of the clients that Trium works with have one goal: improve business performance. Sometimes that work focuses on developing clear and better strategies, aligning leadership teams, supporting transformation initiatives – all important focus areas, but none of these things succeed without strong, trust-based relationships. That’s right, relationships – the fuel that enables all other things to occur productively. The absence of trust-based relationships makes execution at best, inefficient, and at worst, nearly impossible.

Nearly everyone agrees with this premise. Yet, when you look at the focus of various business activities, meetings, etc. very few organizations have any specific strategy or process for building and managing relationships. In fact, they view it as a natural outcome of simply doing the other things, but it isn’t. Most people know how to do their jobs, but very few people know how to do their jobs together. You can hire the most brilliant people in the world, but if they don’t know how to develop and manage relationships, and if they don’t see that as a critical priority, it’s amazing how many execution challenges result.

What is a Relationship?

Despite these obvious truths, what is most interesting is that few leaders even have a clear definition of “relationship” or an understanding of how relationships are built or undermined. Many leaders assume that relationships are built on trust and intimacy, but that’s backwards. Trust and intimacy are outputs of relationship, not inputs.

At Trium, we define relationship as a condition of reality in which 3 things are present and balanced: you, me, and our shared conditions. It requires that I be authentic, you be empathic and that we be accurate about our shared conditions. Very often, when there is friction in the system, the roots of that friction lie in one of these variables: someone is not being authentic, someone is not being empathetic, and perhaps most often, people are operating with very different assumptions about the conditions they are sharing. When this occurs, the feeling is most easily described as discord.

This doesn’t mean that all teammates need to be best friends, or that office romances are the key to success. In fact, a company culture that respects boundaries while promoting shared experiences and shared values is the one that best facilitates the types of strong working relationships I’m advocating. Those are the relationships that enable colleagues – and companies – to “find the yes” that everyone is seeking!

Relationship by Design

Building trust-based relationships requires a distinct business cadence. Very different from strategy or operational review meetings, a relationship cadence is slower, has few agenda items and only one intent – for all parties to see and be seen. A relationship-building meeting or process has three primary components:

  • Get present – that means no iPhones, no open laptops and often a short mindfulness process to get people “in” the room.
  • Get connected – people naturally connect when they understand the context that people are holding and when they see and recognize that all of us are facing almost identical challenges.
  • Reflect and commit – understanding what is happening with others is helpful, but that understanding must translate into insights and actions.

The essence of relationship, in addition to the above, is the simple process of making and keeping commitments so that your interactions and intentions come from a place of trust and truth.

For example, at Trium, we literally have a relationship meeting where we set aside time on a weekly basis to check in with one another as a team. This often takes the form of each team member spending a few minutes sharing where they are in the moment both personally and professionally. In simply answering those questions, sitting in those moments, and listening to our colleagues, we achieve a true sense of relationship and connection. People suddenly become aware that everyone of us is a full human being with aspirations and frustrations, strengths and weaknesses, and often, real personal challenges at home that are affecting how they are showing up at the office.

With that “seeing” in place, we often ask people to answer “what is clearer to me now and what do I intend to do about it?”. This might sound like “it is clearer to me now that Bill is feeling overwhelmed by project x and I commit to finding time to better understand his concerns and offer him resources from my team.” This type of dialogue has the power to fundamentally shift the dynamics of a team and organization.

The Real Payoff

This process sounds incredibly simple – and it is – but it takes time. As you invest this time, you’ll notice that new skills, new muscles, and new insights about the system begin to develop. Slowly but surely, formerly antagonistic colleagues learn how to listen rather than react when they are triggered… how to resolve conflicts without escalating them… how to bring a responsible, accountable mindset to the solution as opposed to just describing the problem. In essence, what people learn to do is “relate to” as opposed to “talk at” each other.

A disciplined relationship cadence ensures that teammates stay connected. This prevents a whole realm of issues associated with disconnection. Information flows freely, people feel valued and understood, trust-based relationships thrive, interpersonal conflicts diminish, and people have time to focus on actual business.

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