Part 3: Building Relations with Co-workers

In our last installment, we discussed how to explore the written and unwritten rules and norms of an organization.  In this installation we will discuss building relationships with new colleagues which is the key to learning about the organization and building the connections that will lead to success.

Building Relationships with Colleagues

Mary was new to the company and there were a myriad of new terms and processes to learn. There was also significant time pressure to begin producing output as the firm’s biggest customer had just placed a rush order. This order demanded an entire year’s worth of work be compressed into just seven months. But this was not Mary’s first, or second, or even tenth job. So instead of burying her head in work for 60 hours a week like the rest of the unit, Mary spent two to three hours of each day talking to people.

Mary spent time:

  • talking to peers, learning about their role, vision of success, and even family matters.
  • talking to administrative staff, learning about the hurdles they needed to jump daily, what systems were used to arrange conference rooms, travel, and supplies. Mary also asked about what time constraints existed for submitting those forms and well as payroll documentation.
  • talking to custodial services employees, identifying when and how offices were cleaned and finding out what problems janitorial staff faced and learning about their families.

One day, in a fit of frustration, a mid-career, completion-orientated co-worker blurted out to Mary, “How is it you get any work done? You are always bothering people with your extended visits.” Mary looked contemplative for a moment, then amused. “Am I bothering you?” Mary asked. “Well, you certainly have ceased my workflow.” “If you are getting nothing from our visits, I’ll certainly stop stopping by your office,” Mary said with a smile. Just then the mid-career guy remembered that Mary had shared with him, just a week earlier, a piece of information about an upcoming product change. Mary’s sharing of this foreknowledge had saved Mr. Completion Orientated a week’s worth of rework. He decided right then and there that a week of time-saving was worth the five minutes a day visit from Mary. Besides, somehow Mary completed a prodigious amount of work, even though she seemed to spend the entire morning walking around. There might be something to learn about how she did that.

Organizations form because of the large and/or complex tasks they complete; participation and often specialization of multiple people is required. Each person’s input is needed to move toward and complete goals and objectives. In these instances, just as each person’s inputs are important, understanding of each co-worker’s outlook and personal goals is important to understand their behavior and motivation. Below is an annotated list of some personal characteristics a new organizational member may want to discover about their new co-workers:

  • To be successful in working with people, at any level, it is important to understand their personal motivations and to learn how to communicate with people based on their personal needs. For example, highly task orientated people may not be highly relationship motivated, completion orientated people may not care about relationships at all. However, the sense of belonging to a group and/or liking one’s co-workers and leaders may be of tantamount importance to others. Some organizations recognizing this, use tools such as DiSC analysis, E Colors, Myers Briggs, et al to help employees learn about one other. With or without these tools patience and dedication to working with people in their preferred personal style will always be fruitful.

  • Explore how to help other people in the organization achieve their organizational goals. For example, an often-ignored sector of every organization is accounting and administrative staff. These people are charged with paying bills, managing documentation for travel, submitting invoices and timesheets for payment. These activities can seem trivial but they can greatly affect an organization’s profitability or even license to operate if done poorly or not on time. Learning from accounting and administrative staff what information is required when executing the core of their responsibilities can have a positive effect on an organization’s bottom line. It can also make someone’s life less of a headache, and if that is not enough, many accounting and administrative staff members are the longest-tenured members of an organization. Therefore, they are key allies in learning the ropes in an organization, learning where the bodies are buried, and learning how not to become the next body.

How to Build Relations?

In an organizational setting, it is important to always be positive, develop and maintain a healthy sense of humor, and always be respectful of EVERYONE. It is the right thing to do. Often people that follow these tenets are more respected within the organization than their formal leadership position indicates. In other words, some people are great leaders within an organization even though they don’t have that job title. It is therefore important to get some sense of who others respect and follow and why.

Just as Mary illustrated above one builds relationships by establishing a pattern of regular (and pleasant!) contact where the individuals work to find common ground. Treat each person and situation as unique – perspectives are unique even if they feel standard. Be open about who you are and your motivations, visions, and professional values. As the relationship builds maintain focus and build upon on the common ground and goals. Diverging into other topics particularly religion and politics is divisive and to be avoided. Regardless of the path the relationship builds upon, in an organizational setting, deal in facts, not opinions and maintain integrity so you can be trusted. Never do anything that would undermine or loose the trust you build.

Winning trust by being honestly vulnerable and asking real questions is a key way to make connections with people. A good approach to asking questions to show vulnerability is to flatly state “I don’t understand how to do X can you help me?” Or, “I don’t understand why we do X, can you explain that to me?” New people in an organization often fall into the trap of feeling obliged to have all the answers. Don’t fall into that trap, ask questions and show vulnerability. The strategy will save time and win friends

Communication within an organization is not always positive. When engaged in conflict listen to concerns and try to understand. Respect others concerns as legitimate and sincere. This helps to signal trust in others which builds their trust in you. Welcome open debate as an ongoing part of a relationship. Confront reality and accept that situations are more complex than you thought and that most people are already doing the best they can. To engage in positive performance change, work to discover the barriers that prevent people from doing their best, then work to help and support others by providing information and ideas, not dogma.

In this installation, we have discussed how to develop strong relationships with co-workers within a new organization. In the next installation, we will rejoin Mary to see how she builds relationships with the management team. How to agree upon and build an appropriate role within an organization and how to work with senior management.

This blog post is part of a series of installments on Career Transition:

  1. Part 1: Getting Established in a New Organization or Role
  2. Part 2: How Does the Organization Work?
  3. Part 3: Building Relations with Co-workers