Covid has wreaked havoc with relationships; people have not been able to get together with those they choose. Leaders with weak or unhelpful relationship have resulted in losing valuable staff. Online meetings have emphatically drawn leaders’ formerly personal and private lives into the professional realm (hello zoom-bombing pets and children). The need for quality human connection and social cohesion in our organizations has never been stronger. Fortunately those two elements are strongly related.
Leaders know that sinking feeling when a gap emerges between themselves and the groups they most need to engage with. Both leaders and business schools have been looking in the wrong places for the cause.
What holds most leaders back, as if their foot is on the relationship brake, means they fail to engage and gain alignment. Up until now, leaders rarely recognized that shaping group behavior is describable as a process, which they can learn. Instead they unconsciously fall into relationship patterns influenced by either early family experiences or being lead themselves.
A new leadership model is required
Informal relationship patterns within their organization have a dramatic effect on results, which is why birds in flight manage to alter course without bumping into each other. Relationships and collaboration are primarily a matter of principles and process and not personality and content.
Leaders can learn to mine the brilliance that already lies within their organizations if they learn to refresh and re-generate new patterns of informal and personal relationships relevant to the business. What has been previously private and personal is now central to implementing new strategies, products and services.
But here is the truth.
Just as crucial to the formal organization hierarchy, are the informal work relationships among executives and staff throughout the organization. Relationship which cut across the formal lines of decision and authority–the human bonds based on shared personal experience and values than position or job title. These informal relationships networks form the life blood of every organization; who people listen to, who understands what is going on, who they confide in when the going gets tough, and who looks out for them. Pre covid, these connections formed at coffee machines, social events, and holiday parties as people privately shared personal stories of their hopes, their cares and what and who are important in their lives and discovered significant connections.
Three ways to stimulate human bonds for organization cohesion:
1. Kick start newcomers entry
Leaders continually have opportunities to share their vision, shape direction, and create alignment. Integrating new team members rapidly is yet another opportunity. Existing team members might well be uncertain and have fears of how much are these newcomers going to “renovate the house” that they have been working so hard to build.
Leaders can simply ensure new appointees are successfully and rapidly inducted into their leadership team, the business group and the organization by personally introducing and making clear:
• Their name and role
• The main impacts the leader wants the person to have
• The reason why they chose this person
• Three or four qualities or experiences the leader knows the individual brings to the organization
• How they want the team to work with this person
This format ensures the best entry and rapid acceptance of any newcomer. Hearing the leader’s reasons for their choice clarifies the vision for both the role and the individual involved. Leaders who overlook or avoid this process watch informal connections emerge based on nebulous pecking orders. The integration of the new executive is haphazard and the chance for rapid alignment is lost.
2. Powerful personal introductions for new groups
Special purpose teams and meetings are the new norm. When participants know who is at the table, or on the zoom call, and the experiences they bring, fresh conversations thrive. Generate these in your everyday interactions. One or some of the following introduction invitations generate working relationships rapidly:
• One of the experiences they have had that draws them to wanting to improve the team/company
• 3-4 qualities they bring to their work
• An experience that motivates them to contribute to x
• 1-2 people or groups who have been influential in how they lead
Each of these invitations require self-disclosure, which in turn rapidly increases the group’s knowledge about one another, and enables group members to make interpersonal connections based on their own experience. They also deepened the level of sincerity of discussions and the level of collegial intimacy, while increasing their commitment to get to the heart of the matter.
Leaders can create their own password to Aladdin’s cave and hear for themselves the gems group members bring. For this to work the content of these conversations remain private to participants.
3. Shift your meeting focus to helping people participate.
How many meetings have you left feeling unsatisfied? You are not alone. We have people, a room or zoom, to meet in, a start time and an agenda. What could possibly go wrong? None of those things is wrong. They are all essential, but they are just not enough. These elements provide the infrastructure, but they don’t take into account that people and their interactions are central to productivity and success.
Leaders are not taught how to lead groups, and unsurprisingly, without simple structures, people don’t know how to participate. This dynamic creates the perfect storm from criticism and disengagement.
Leaders, don’t focus preparation on content, focus on what your audience needs to make decisions and take action. If you want to lead and implement change, creating simple processes for people to participate with their experience and expertise is essential.
Leaders can no longer avoid the soft side of relationships. In fact, as we return from covid restrictions, regenerating relationships need to be front and centre of every CEO’s interactions.