I was reflecting this morning on the numerous conversations I have had with senior business leaders over the last several months.  When I ask questions about challenges they (and their teams) are experiencing at work, I often hear comments like these:

We are not candid.

We don’t really know each other the way we once did.

We don’t have fun anymore.

I feel isolated.

There is a lack of trust on our team.

I am struggling to influence so and so.

We are not aligned the way we should be.

Our team has lost its rhythm.

Cross-silo collaboration is poor or non-existent.

The challenges of working from home for this prolonged period of time is negatively impacting many of us in significant ways.  In my opinion, one of the biggest casualties for the majority of leaders I know is the negative impact on business relationships.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I cannot imagine anyone thought or said out loud “I am not going to invest a lot of time in my business relationships and likely not build new ones for at least a year.”  Yet, this is exactly what has occurred for many of us due to Covid restrictions, work from home isolation, and the stresses of keeping our businesses afloat/profitable in this strange new world.  We may have failed to adapt and find virtual substitutes for building and maintaining relationships which is so fundamentally critical to effective, cohesive and high-performing teams.  It is also a vitally important aspect of self-care that is not discussed nearly enough.

Think about it.  Strong business relationships are the catalyst for solving almost every challenge I shared from conversations with my network at the beginning of this post.  Those challenges do not exist in a vacuum, but are instead often symptoms of dysfunctional or non-existent relationships.  If we have strong relationships with our work colleagues, we are far more likely to be candid, experience trust, feel we are aligned, enjoy work more, collaborate better, etc.  If we take a moment and reflect, we may find that addressing the relationship issue is the primary solution to addressing what may be missing or dysfunctional within our team or company ecosystem.

If you have read and embraced the ideas in the first two posts of my “Simplify” blog post series, Creating Space and The Ripple Effect of Our Actions, you are now equipped with helpful tools, calendar space and mental frameworks to tackle re-investing or “doubling down” on business relationships.  Here are three actionable ideas on how to assess where you are and move forward:

  1. Conduct a Relationship Audit. List all of your key stakeholder relationships.  This should include senior leaders you work with, all peers, all direct reports and other leaders you collaborate with on a frequent basis.  You can even include outside vendors/partners.  Grade them on a scale of one to 10.  Be honest in the grading and any scores below seven become your target list of where to invest your time and energy first.  Helpful Tip:  Looking for best practices for how to build great business relationships?  Read this post.
  2. Do Some Reverse Engineering and Ask “WHY?”. Reflect on the challenges I shared earlier in this post.  Ask the difficult question of “why” you don’t trust someone, feel you can’t be candid with them or feel out of sync with them.  Why doesn’t our team have fun anymore?  Why is my team unable to collaborate with my peer’s team?  Why am I struggling to influence my colleagues to get things done?  I will suggest you will probably trace the challenge to surface, dysfunctional or non-existent working relationships.
  3. Stop Blaming Covid. I know that sounds harsh, but we have to find virtual substitutes and workarounds to make business relationships a priority.  We used to drop by the offices of our colleagues, grab coffee or lunch with them, have a drink after work, give warm handshakes and even the occasional hug.  That is obviously more difficult now.  OK, what are the virtual substitutes we can use?  Almost anything done in person has a virtual alternative: coffee, lunch, a drink after work…employ Zoom or Teams and make time for people.  Mask up and go for a walk with colleagues after work.  Meet on restaurant patios as the weather gets nicer.  Call people you haven’t spoken to in a while and just connect.  Ask about their lives and share insight into yours.  Be personal and vulnerable.  Everybody is likely sharing the same struggles.

If you are experiencing any of the issues I shared in the post and want to address them, please strongly consider the state of your business relationships.  Don’t let pride, stubbornness or even fear keep us from making a significant investment in this foundational area that, if done well, can be the catalyst for more of the professional success we all desire.

Keys:  Do an audit.  Ask the WHY questions.  Reconnect.  Be personal and vulnerable.  Be intentional.  Invest.  Be creative.  Bend some rules, but still be safe.  Act now.

Where will you make relationship investments this week?

*Stay tuned for what’s next in the “Simplify” blog post series: “Clarity Matters”