I was having a conversation with an amazing life coach around the different value people place on relationships and how that impacts delivery.  We got to talking about delivery approaches that focus on relationships as a product of the tasks vs delivery that requires the relationships up front before you can get to action and so delivery.  Some of us have experienced both and have perhaps experienced the dark side of both – the disconnection of being in a transactional culture that just doesn’t see or value individuals/ people and the frustration of being in a people focused team where delivery is looked down on and a focus on individual happiness often prevents work from getting done.

The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, where not having a relationship doesn’t stop you from getting it done and you don’t sacrifice relationships to get it done. Which brings me to the impact of remote working and what that means to how we have learnt to create connection and relationships.

One of the assumptions we have is that strong connections happen because of face to face meetings and the casual connections we have back in the office.

I came across this blog from Seth Godin that got me thinking.

Intentional connection in the digital office | Seth’s Blog (seths.blog)

His premise is that being online and remote can generate intentional connections, with the right person rather than the accessible one. It is this word,  ‘intentional’ that got me thinking.

My learnt way of establishing relationships has always been as a result of an action, as a result of being a part of a project, part of a team with a clear goal. In these cultures there is no time to spend on forming relationships without a reason. Time is precious and devoted to doing the work. I have always been super shy and so this has been an easy way for me to interact, the rules are clearer and less ambiguous than the small chat rules of drinks after work.

People centric cultures reverse this –  action happens as a result of the relationships. The downside is that relationships take time and there is seldom enough time to get things done, so people lean on the relationships they already have rather than taking the time to build new one’s.

Being in immersed in such a culture I was able to observe this creation of relationship before shifting into action as it unfolded. Some new talent just withered and died – unable to get traction and access to the existing networks. Whilst other talent seemed to slowly establish and thrive and when did some digging, the individuals who thrived had spent a large portion of their time just making connections – coffees, lunches, quick connect conversations, drinks after work.

This reliance on relationship has a dark side as it can be a barrier to new team members which results in existing networks being overloaded – work still needs to get done, so people turn to people they know.  Work starts to flow through a trusted core of people who have known each other for ages, leaving willing and able team members out in the dark. This can create a perception of a lack of capacity and capability that further re-enforces the barrier between the known network and the new people. Which is interesting because one of the ways that corporates have gotten around this reliance on knowing the person before you will work with them is through the use of roles. Roles are intended to enable people to get established quickly – they create a sense of known and certainty. When we know someone’s role, we know a bit about who they are and how they fit in with us.

This got me thinking further about roles and how roles enable people to move more easily in a corporate – if roles are trusted and respected. Roles should by their very nature enable us to widen our circle of connections by allowing us to find and meet (and so connect) to people who are able to support the actions we wish to take.  Yet in a relationship based culture they are often largely useless.

Which brings me back to deliberate connections. I have really enjoyed the luxury of having time to evolve relationships that then support everyone being able to contribute their own, unique value to ‘deliver’. I can’t help wonder if remote working will enable cultures to shift out of the extreme edges of these two flavours and build a better balance where leaders and teams alike start to value the time it takes to create relationships simply because it is harder and we have to be more intentional about it.

How could we bake taking the time to know our team mates into everything we do ? I am not talking about team building here. I am talking about real conversations with people with strong and active listening –  conversations that happen every day and that create a continuous thread through the work we do.

What would deliberate connection look like ?

What could we create if we really were able to leverage the power of human connection ?