I once worked for a semiconductor company, in a business development role. I was new to the industry and so when “Doug” the test manager invited me for a tour of the test floor, I readily agreed.
We spent about an hour touring the facility, discussing the challenges of the test floor, and generally getting to know each other. As interesting as it all was, I couldn’t have explained exactly why it made sense for a biz-dev guy to be touring the test floor.
But Doug mentioned that over the years he’d found it to be a good investment of his time, so I decided to go with it. Little did I know that not long afterwards, I’d find out how right he was.
A few months later, I was in charge of a struggling product when a large, promising customer appeared. They wanted product: ASAP. And so based on a quick discussion with engineering, I gave them a date by which they’d have their shipment. But I had made a critical mistake.
Although the folks in engineering could guess at the turnaround times, it was the people on the test floor who actually delivered. And based on the official delivery windows, my parts were going to be several weeks later than I’d promised. I was in trouble, and I needed Doug’s help.
Fortunately, because of the hour that Doug and I had spent on the test floor, we already knew each other. We hadn’t worked together yet, but we were miles ahead of being anonymous people on org charts.
This familiarity made all the difference for me, and I suspect for Doug as well. My knowledge of him helped me to stay calm, choose the right strategy, and collaborate on a solution. Either of us could have panicked: threats, escalation, drama: but we didn’t, and the goal was met. One hour spent months before, at Bob’s initiative, turned out to be a great investment in getting results.
“Wait a second: what do you mean get to know people? I don’t have that kind of time. And besides, it’s not my job.”
If you need to interact with others to get your job done, building connection is an easy way to become much more effective. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. For instance a simple coffee or lunch with a coworker can make a big difference down the line.
On that topic, I find the “team lunch” to be a tough one in which to build person-to-person rapport. For me, a one on one setting is the most effective way to develop these ties. And if we can have a conversation that includes meaningful non-work topics, such as where we’re from, and what matters to us outside of work, then we can develop a sense for each other.
It doesn’t mean that you have to become best friends with someone, or tell them everything about yourself. It’s about gradually developing connection, at a pace that makes sense.
You may not realize it but in these conversations you are getting a lot of important information about the person: data that will inform your actions, especially when the going gets tough.
And it works for the other person, too: as they get to know you better, you become less threatening, and the interactions take on a calmer feel. That calm connection is the fuel for great collaboration.
Idea: You eat lunch anyhow, right? Go for lunch with a coworker, one on one, and include non-work topics in your discussion.
Paul Konasewich, connectleadership.com
© 2007 Paul Konasewich