Work is basically a series of relationships. Everyone you work with represents a distinct interaction and an opportunity to build a stronger collective network across the company. Every day, you essentially have an opportunity to turn acquaintances into colleagues, colleagues into friends, and friends into true business partners that would do anything to help you succeed. There’s no question about it – relationships matter, especially for managers and leaders who have to get things done up, down and across the organization. The more high quality relationships you have, the better.
Here’s a simple exercise to assess the quality of your relationships. Draw a spider web on a large sheet of paper – a circle with your name in the middle, and 5 “rings” around the circle on the page. Label the outer most ring “Excellent” and the corresponding rings (moving toward the center of the page) as follows: “Very Good”, “Good”, “OK”, and “Poor”. Now, take everyone you know and place them somewhere on the spider web. Your best friend whom you eat lunch with every day goes on the Excellent ring. That new colleague seems to have clicked with you, so put them on the “Good” ring for now. The manager in your department that you always seem to be competing with – be honest, you probably could improve that relationship; better put them in the “Poor” category. The key is to be brutally honest with yourself – don’t over-inflate your ratings. And go deep into your network when doing this exercise – the normal manager or leader might have up to 30-40 names on the spider web.
As you add names to the spider web, do so in three different colors – use one color for operational relationships, to indicate those colleagues that you work with on a regular basis. These would include people on your own teams, within your department, etc. Use another color to indicate strategic relationships – people within the company that you interact with to get things done (Purchasing, Finance, HR, the Chairman’s office, etc.). Finally, use a third color for external business relationships – people that you do business with (partners, vendors, customers, clients, etc.).
Once finished, step back and look at what the spider web is telling you. Where do you tend to have the strongest relationships? If it’s in the operational area, you may be overly comfortable within your own functional area and may not be stretching your network across the organization. If it’s in the strategic area, you’re influencing well throughout the company, but may be struggling a bit over direction, philosophy, etc., within your own group. Note the number of relationships that are just “OK” or “Poor”. What can you do to improve these relationships? Make a specific action plan for each relationship, with a goal of moving each one at least one ring further out in the next 30 days.
If you’re not looking at your work relationships as a resource, you should be. Relationships need to be nurtured and developed, like any other skill or asset. Assess the quality of your relationships, and make a concerted effort to improve the ones lower on the scale. This simple process might be the most important self-development you do all year.