Build Relationships … to What?

I was in a good conversation the other day. Eric was leading a new team in the Purchasing department, and he told a small group of us – we were having lunch at Panera – that he was having trouble building good relationships with the new people on his team.

“I want a strong team,” he said, “but I don’t know some of these people very well.  And it’s not just the new team members, it’s the contractors too. They have been brought on to help us learn a new inventory system, but how do we all get related to each other in a positive way?”

Aaron offered some good advice. “Don’t worry about getting them related to each other. Focus on getting everybody related to the goal.”  That shifted the whole conversation from talking about human relations to sharing ideas for how to get people talking about the goal.

Eric looked worried. “My manager wants everybody to be using the new inventory system in less than 3 months. I’m not sure everyone on the team will agree with that. I don’t know who the strong leader-type people are and who are the loafers.”

Then Sheryl told us how she had done it. “I had to get people working toward a goal earlier this year,” she said. “I told each one of them, individually, what I thought the goal was, and that I wanted their input – good and bad. I took notes on their worries about it. And their objections, too. Then I called a meeting. I wrote the goal at the top of a whiteboard, with the list of all the objections and worries on one side of the board. I asked them to create ideas on how to handle each of the objections. It was great – some of them even came up with solutions to the same objection they had given me in our one-on-one meeting!”

That was an Understanding Conversation – Sheryl asked for feedback on a new initiative, then led a discussion about how to make it more workable for a group of people. Implementation is always a challenge, but when you get people involved in talking about the goal and how to reach it, you’re halfway home.

Even if the end result is that you have to tweak the goal a little, that’s okay. When everyone has had their say, given their ideas, and been part of shaping the direction they will go, things can gain momentum.

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