The Importance of Building Collaborative Networks at Work
In a world where Facebook rules, Instagram proffers lies about our perfect lives, and the promise of connectedness through social media is singularly isolating, there is still one great truth about work success.
Let’s be clear here. I’m not talking about how many so-called “friends” you have through your social media outlets. How many folks you pepper with emails when the report is late.
This is that set of both internal and external connections that we nurture over time, provide value to, allow to support us and in turn, support them back.
Good companies hire good networkers for management. Not everyone comes to this naturally. Given Jungian archetypes, some folks are naturally drawn to collaboration. Others work much better alone, isolated in their own bubbles. Nothing wrong about either, these are simply preferences.
Your personal working style notwithstanding, it’s still important to cultivate connections within your company and within your industry.
Every year right about this time, I speak at an annual gathering of African American PhD students. The Southern Regional Education Board hosts hundreds of kids and adults, all minorities, who have successfully completed their PhDs. My topic? Networking for Personal and Professional Success, which I share with a PhD professor who speaks to the topic of professional memberships.
For the last sixteen years we’ve presented a program which discusses how to create connections at work, and how to expand your influence through professional associations.
As social media has become much more pervasive, both of us have noticed that there is an increasing focus on the online aspect of networking rather than the personal side. While this is understandable, it’s headed in the wrong direction.
You may navigate social media exceptionally well. You may be highly adept at loading up on Facebook friends. There’s a certain self-satisfying thrill to this but it’s hollow. You haven’t done the work to earn those relationships. People’s trust through handling conflicts. Ultimately you have to be able to not only get along with people face-to-face, but navigate the often difficult landscape of human emotions, diversity, and personality challenges that work shoves at us all.
Most of us quail at the thought of networking- about 75% of us, in fact- which is just one reason why post-session discussions at conferences have been replaced by the headlong rush out the door, phones to ears, to avoid actually interacting with strangers. Interestingly, the primary reason we used to spend a small fortune to attend these conferences was to network. Now we dodge that very thing by attaching phones to our ears in the universal message of “buzz off, I’m busy.”
This doesn’t make you a good job prospect.
Our ability to easily connect with, value, and collaborate with others is the single greatest predictor of our success (https://business.financialpost.com/executive/careers/the-biggest-predictor-of-career-success-not-skills-or-education-but-emotional-intelligence). Intellect and job skills count, but not as much as people skills- particularly if you’re a manager.
In an August 2018 article by Dan McCarthy about the top challenges managers face (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-challenges-a-manager-will-face-2275955), virtually all of them are interpersonal skills. From making that critically-important hiring decision to handling conflict to dealing with a top employee who feels ignored, each and every one of these issues has a critical interpersonal component. None of them can be appropriately handled via social media. Termination by text may be legal, but it’s vicious and irresponsible. Your company ends up paying a very high price on social media and hiring forums. Of course terminations, tough conversations and terrible situations are hard. That’s your job– to handle the hard stuff.
A close friend of mine, a code jockey, was recruited to work for a multi-billion dollar corporation. He was chosen solely for his computer skills. His manager- actually one of many- had recently been promoted. The guy was a decent code jockey, but reportedly a rank jerk when it came to management. He was easily threatened, hid most of the time, and threw his weight around or damaged people’s reputations through gossip. My friend, along with many, many others, walked out, leaving this company high and dry on a key deliverable.
The cost to corporations from poor interpersonal skills is enormous, as it also is to the productivity of those who feel compelled to stay.
If interpersonal skills aren’t your thing, and that’s becoming much more common as Millennials enter management,where on earth do you begin?
Here are some suggestions:
- You can rightly figure that most other folks are just as uncomfortable about connecting as you are. Some appear to have it all together. Most of us don’t. While we may assume that others move easily among people, that’s largely not the truth. Whoever begins the conversation with courtesy and genuine interest wins the day. You’re the hero in more ways than one.
- Everyone has a story, and they want to tell it. Look, some folks talk your ears off (my hand is up). Others, it’s like prying warmth out of a marble tabletop. Either way, in our heart of hearts, each of us deeply wishes for validation. To be heard, seen, acknowledged. One way to do this is to ask good open-ended questions. Tongue tied? Desperate for a few easy ideas? Try (https://www.conversationstarters.com/101.htm)
- Try compliments and kind words. I wrote a book called WordFood: How We Feed or Starve our Relationships. The premise is that our words have great power (they do, look it up in any religious text) and how we wield them affects folks right down to their DNA. Recognizing an accomplishment, or even making a comment about a piece of jewelry can make someone’s day in ways we can’t anticipate. I might skirt complimenting a skirt if I’m a male staring at a tush. Let’s get real here. Be thoughtful about what and how you compliment, and be very aware of your motivations behind doing it.
- Get to know your people. No matter how busy everyone is, if you want to be effective and influential, you need to know your folks. Those in other departments. When I interviewed a bank manager some time ago about who got the plum jobs and who didn’t, she said that those employees who took the time to get to know other managers, execs and thought leaders in the company invariably moved up. Others, who put their noses to the grindstone and did excellent work but kept to themselves, didn’t. Talent is not the only determinant of upward mobility. This exec added that typically, men did the networking, women did the working.
- Find ways to support others’ success. While this should go without saying for those on your own team, this is equally important if you want to be promoted or get the best assignments. Folks typically reward those who help them get what they want. This is a universal truth. If you know that a senior manager in another department is in dire need of information or support that you can provide, do your best to provide it. Make sure you know rules of this deal prior to going forward so that what you do doesn’t get forgotten or worse, that person claims all the work for himself or herself. There are plenty of gender politics here so cover your bases. Document and make sure others know what you’re doing and why.
- Understand and respect different personality styles. While this is only one facet of what makes each of us unique, at work it’s particularly important. There are four basic Jungian types. Many of us know them as DISC, Social Styles or the more complex Myers-Briggs. I deliver training on these styles through Speak First out of the UK, which uses easy -to-remember animal archetypes to express those differences (https://www.speak-first.com/training/animals/). Knowing your preferences and those of others not only makes us vastly more efficient at work, but it also allows us to connect with others in ways that are more comfortable to them. This ensures better cooperation, understanding, work performance and job satisfaction. When we connect with others while recognizing their preferences around time, accuracy, deadlines and relationships, we make trusted friends and allies as well as much happier team members. We can also network across departmental silos with ease, manage up, and interact with senior people with much more confidence.
- Have a Pocket Story. I coined this term to describe a quick, typically self-effacing story that gives the listener an idea of who you are. Your sense of humor. Your willingness to let others see your human side. Here’s what I mean (please keep in mind that these stories are often easier for women than men, who often want to posture in some way). One of my favorite Pocket Stories was when I was working as a consultant to what was then US West. One day I hit the ladies’ room, then walked out onto a huge courtyard which was full of folks having lunch and taking a break in the early fall sunshine. I couldn’t understand the comments and laughter that seemed to be following me. That is, until one of the employees from the lunch counter scampered out to whisper in my ear, You tucked your skirt in your panty hose. While clearly not everyone would tell a story like that, the point is that something funny always breaks the ice. People secrete endorphins and then they start telling stories of their own. Ice broken. Mission accomplished. You’re the hero for getting it started.
- Be willing to fail. Fear of rejection is the number one reason why we don’t reach out. Why we hide on our devices. Never leave the cubicle. Send emails, tweets and IMs that get misinterpreted, cause massive time loss and far too much trouble because we can’t handle the potential heat.
Handling the heat is your job. Especially if you’ve got the title. The only way we get better is to try. You will screw up. So will they. It’s part and parcel of being human, and learning to get along. Investing in management training programs- and please, NOT just online, which doesn’t stretch your people skills at all- helps a great deal. You might find this link useful: https://www.speak-first.com/. Plenty of companies offer training. Not all offer coaching and consulting as well, which are part of how to ensure that you not only get trained, but also learn to apply what you’ve learned. Take the time to thoroughly research your training options. And please, a partial day of SkillPath Fred Pryor or the like doesn’t do the job. These trainers get paid largely on the books and products they sell, rather than the results they deliver. The often get paid a paltry $200 a day and they have to make up the difference selling from the podium. Result? A six-hour sales pitch, minimal content, and very few measurable results for you or your company. You go home with a bunch of books you barely have time to open, much less study.
- Trust that you’ll be just fine. Because you will. Learning to set your device aside, spend time with others and learn their preferences, behaviors, desires and needs makes you very influential. Instagram pics might create online influencers. That’s largely meaningless at work, where the ability to maneuver the day-to-day dramas, conflicts, interactions and unique needs of our team members, fellow employees and senior managers takes people skills.
- Have fun. No matter what happens, you will find friends. Create allies. Learn new skills- the very skills that make you not only much more promotable but likable, relatable and engaging. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s just life. You can build collaborative networks that share, cooperate and thrive. It starts with you.
What are you waiting for?
Julia Hubbel | Founder & CEO | THE HUBBEL GROUP, INC.| https://thegallopinggaia.com/