Building relationships builds organizational talent

building relationshipsLast Friday, after one of our year-long leadership development programs was wrapping up, I joined a group of the participants for lunch. The program they had completed included two intensive week-long sessions in residence (one year apart), combined with journaling, mentoring, coaching, and an action learning team project spanning the entire year.

At lunch, I asked them: “What was the highlight of the program for you?” Then I listened. For the next 10 minutes, each person at the table shared stories about how much they appreciated and learned from the other participants in the program. They talked about strong relationships that they built with people from other colleges and universities in our system. And they shared how much they respected each other.

I asked what made it possible for them to build these relationships in the program and listened again. They talked about the ground rule of “no rank in the room” that made it possible to respect everyone and what they had to say whether they were a staff member, faculty, or administrator. They learned that they all had something to share and to learn from each other. One person shared that this last week especially, there were more breaks built in so that participants could connect with each other and get to know each other. There were also social activities in the evenings that encouraged them to build relationship with each other.

On my drive home from the program Friday afternoon I reflected on what they had to say and how it affirmed the 70:20:10 model of learning and development. If you recall from my earlier blog,  20% of development should come through relationship building, whether it is through mentoring, coaching, or working with your peers. Each graduate in this program now has a trusted group of colleagues to contact when they are looking to build collaborative partnerships across institutions or are navigating a new challenge, or struggling with a tough issue. That’s pretty powerful.

It made me think: “How can leaders make sure their people are building strong relationships and learning from others in their organization, even when they are not in a cohort-based program like this?”

Here are a few ideas I’ll offer up:

  1. Assign your staff to cross-functional teams on projects where they have to build expertise or stretch their skills
  2. Ensure the teams are setting ground rules that respect differences
  3. Encourage team members to create safe spaces within their work to question the project and the process and conduct regular debriefs to reflect on their work
  4. Include team-building activities into your team’s agenda

What has worked for you to build organizational talent through encouraging good working relationships?

Anita Rios

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