Reflecting what has made my career successful, one of the most important things is building strong working relationships. Strong relationships sound like a good idea but are they essential? Well for me, difficulties always arose when I failed to forge a strong relationship with a key individual. For instance, picture working in the highly pressured environment of trying to secure a big new company deal. This is when a poor working relationship can fall apart. Just when you need to build a consensus quickly, you don’t want to waste time with political infighting. So how do you build a strong working relationship?
There are two main routes where a strong relationship can be forged, either through collaboration or adversity. Which sort of working relationship is stronger and has a longer life time? How much do you need to put into a relationship to keep it strong?
There are two ways to view adversity as a crucible for forming relationships. Adversity is where you are joined together as a team to meet a challenging outcome or deadline. Or there is the adversarial approach where you pitch your wits against a colleague to gain the winning argument. Adversarial exchanges will deliver no long lasting bonds, just a healthy respect or unhealthy disrespect for your colleague which will be revisited every time you meet.
Common adverse situations include working to deliver a major project with a tight deadline. Working to a common goal, pitched against a difficult task, you work intensely with your colleagues.
I found myself in this situation many years ago when working into the early hours every night to win a multi-million pound tender with our number one customer. Working with my team mates, we got to understand each other’s strengths and pressure points. Needing to get the best result meant we made sure we gave someone space when they wanted it. But we also clearly communicated an expected output. Disagreement was healthy because it was backed by active listening and engagement. The outcome was, as well as winning the tender, we all gained a healthy respect for each other which we were able to draw on in future work together.
Collaboration is the most constructive route to building a strong successful work relationship. In collaborations, it’s key at first to know where your colleagues are coming from. Spending some time up front to know their agenda, ideas and way of working is vital to build a cohesive team. It’s very easy to think that you are all working to a common goal and subsequently find there are fundamental differences.
Once this basic understanding is established then focus can be moved to identifying the best way to constructively support your business partners. Relationships built on a basis of generosity and with genuine best intentions, are the most powerful. This generous way of acting towards your colleagues is reciprocated and strengthened.
It’s also important to attend to the relationship regularly, maintaining contact to keep the bonds strong. How regularly depends on proximity and situation. It’s easy to keep up a regular ad-hoc dialogue when you work in the same building. You need to plan more when it’s a long distance relationship. Making some time, out of formal meetings, helps to build connections.
The strongest relationships I have built have transcended role change and company moves. They give me, even now the most wonderful resources. I have relied on these relationships to help me out when things have got tough and to celebrate with me successes achieved.
How certain are you of the strength of your working relationships? How confident are you that colleagues seek to promote you advantageously to your senior management team? Is it worth you investing a little more of yourself to secure your working relationships before you really need to draw on them?