Social Relationships at Work

Peering over a cubicle

Social relations, social connectedness, is a powerful and fundamental human drive. Mountains of psychological and social science research shows us that individuals deprived of social connectedness deeply suffer.  Evan Gallup, in its famous G12 employee survey has “I have a friend at work” as one indicator of employee engagement. When we connect and become connected to something bigger than ourselves, we thrive.

I am reflecting a lot lately on social connectedness because I was asked by a client to facilitate a seminar on building workplace relationships.  My client, an HR director, was hearing from staff that they felt isolated from other departments at work and did not know how to develop professional relationships.

So for two hours I talked with incredibly well-educated, intelligent technical professionals about strategically building workplace relationships. I stressed the importance of inventorying existing relationships, identifying gaps and then planning how and when to meet key people they wished to know better.  It was a lively and fun two hour discussion as they created personal networking plans.

Okay, let me now voice what I am sure some of you are thinking: we have to actually instruct people on how to seek out and cultivate new relationships? You bet. Take a good hard look at the content of any formal education path that takes one into a professional career and you will see a wealth of technical knowledge but a dearth of interpersonal skills. Not only is relationship building not part of the education and experience in the professional world, it is remarkably difficult to do well.

Workplaces today are full of people not like us.  They may be younger, older, a different ethnicity, different gender, different culture and so on.  If I approach someone from my values, beliefs, and mindset, I need to be very conscious that my assumptions about them may be wrong. I need to be vigilant and open to new ways to say and do things or the new relationship will go nowhere.  Strong relationships are built on trust and trust grows out of understanding and respect. This is hard work for both of us.

I was overjoyed to get the request to facilitate this relationship building session.  Both the staff as well as the leadership of this organization sees the value in building these skills.  My hope is that other technical and task-driven organizations will likewise see the importance of building the social side of the business.

Volunteer Leadership Development Programs: An Essential Solution For Sustaining Association Leadership

Consider the following scenario:

Helen sat at her desk and put her head in her hands. As an experienced association Executive Director, she was well-versed in managing the dynamics of marshalling paid staff and dedicated volunteers to achieve mission. Her staff is wonderful but the volunteers are causing her to have many sleepless nights.

The current Board is having difficulty getting things done. Most of the Board members are experienced professionals with 15 to 20 year service records. The challenge is that they are all highly experienced technical professionals with little to no leadership experience.  The members with leadership titles in their organizations lean heavily on a command and control leadership style which is pretty ineffective with volunteers. The result? Board meeting are like herding cats; Board members stick to their own opinions like glue and consensus decisions drag on for hours.

To compound Helen’s woes, three Board members are stepping down next month and the pipeline for new Board talent is virtually empty. The younger association members seem reluctant to serve on task forces and committees.  Incentive for devoting the time needed for serving in a leadership capacity just don’t seem to appeal to the younger generations. Helen reached for her bottle of aspirin and sighed.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, it should. (more…)

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