Ubud, 12 April 2017 — Leaders in business cannot be successful without mastering the skill of building strong relationships. So what is the secret sauce that will make your business relationships deliver the expected results?
The very nature of business implies that there is a need for collaboration between people. We want that collaboration to work well, to deliver the outcomes we expect. And we know from experience that it is not easy. Making collaboration work, and work well, is easier said than done.
Three levels of relationships
Look around you, and you can see this quest for effective collaboration play out at three levels:
First, through one-to-one relationships. These involve your individual relationships with your colleagues, your partners and your clients.
Second, through relationships in teams, for projects that serve clients. These involve your relationships with team members and other teams.
Third, through relationships between business units or entire companies. These involve your relationships to reorganize or merge larger groups of people.
At each of these three levels, it is easy to underestimate the challenges and the skills needed for successful collaboration to be built. We all know of examples where collaboration did not happen in the way that it was planned, expected, and hoped for, at all three levels.
Think of the individual relationships at work that have become toxic without trust, and where it is hard to see how they could be turned around to become pregnant with potential.
Think of the projects that failed because their teams suffered from poor relationships, either internally or with clients, or both.
Think of the reorganizations and mergers that focused on their business rationale, and failed because people, relationships and business cultures were not put at the center of attention.
Several business gurus—who learned their lessons the hard way—have changed their business advice 180 degrees in the later stages of their careers after they had discovered the fundamental need to put people first, and only then the technical and financial prospects. Relationships matter above everything else.
Leading across boundaries
That brings us back to the question of leadership skills to make collaboration happen through strong relationships. What does it take?
Research by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) shows that a large majority of senior executives score themselves lowest on their ability to lead horizontally across boundaries.
Boundary-spanning leadership has become a hot topic, as it should. In our increasingly connected world and dynamic business environment, the skills to lead across boundaries—compared to the more traditional management skills to lead vertically in a hierarchy—are now critically affecting business performance at all levels.
The challenge to build effective relationships for collaboration is all about leading across boundaries, individually, in teams, and on a larger scale between businesses or business units. What is needed is to span (lead across) boundaries. Another word for that is to bridge divides.
Our awareness of boundaries and divides is fundamental to the qualities of our relationships and our skills to build collaboration. CCL’s research shows that you cannot jump from the 'great divide' to a ‘nexus of collaboration’ without systematically building respect and trust.
Building collaboration in three steps
In my experience, we can distinguish three steps to build collaboration through relationships:
The first step is connecting. Here is where you learn 'their language' so that you can quickly establish a relationship based on shared values, with a message that engages the heart, not only the mind. Research about leading change has shown how critical this is.
The second step is constructing. Here is where you learn to give respect to the other side, and to build trust by earning trust, and thereby focus on the essential ingredient for building a successful relationship, which takes time.
The third step is con-vincing. Here is where you learn to create wins together in your collaborative relationship. Rather than embracing the conventional paradigm of convincing (winning over or conquering) the other side, the focus will be on 'con-vincing' which means finding ways to win together.
These three steps matter regardless of whether the relationship you are building is individual, in teams, or between larger business units or whole companies.
The critical first step
In order to be successful, the critical step is the first one, the step of connecting with your audience, with the other person or group of people in the relationship you want to build. Once you master the step of connecting, you have also laid the foundation for building results in the second and third steps.
In other posts I have shared that you can learn how to speak with your audience in 'their language.' Online training for you to learn how to Work In All Colors will start soon.
By starting with the first step of connecting, you will set yourself up to master the skill of building strong relationships in your business and your world.
Learning to connect and speak 'their language' is the secret sauce for making business relationships deliver the expected results.
Once you learn the first step, the results will follow, and probably sooner than you think.