It strikes me as unfortunate that in common business vernacular we have “organizational development” and “professional development”, yet what we really need is relationship development. One could argue that relationship development falls within the domain of “personal development” or the ubiquitous “human development”. Of course, what really happens when we think we have identified a “relationship problem”? Someone is referred to human “resources”.
Learning has sour roots, but pleasant fruits — Proverb
I admit that I have long advocated that too often organizations try to solve problems at the relationship level, yet their definition of “relationship” is too narrow and confined merely to interpersonal relations. I receive frequent phone calls and emails from owners and managers on what amounts to a training request. In other words, they ask for a workshop on team building, communication or conflict management (these are the three most common requests, anyway). My first response goes something like this:
What is going on with your team or organization that makes you want a workshop on “fill in the blank”?
“Well, if people would learn to just get along and start focusing on the work that needs to be done rather than focusing on each other’s personalities, my life would be better,” is a typical response.
May I ask another question? [the answer is always, “yes”] What are the goals of your team or organization?
“Wel-l-l-l-l-l, I suppose they are…” and the person usually rattles off three to five things that are close to being goals. Sometimes they ask me wait while they pull them off the wall or dust off the strategic plan, but not often.
May I ask another question? [the answer is always, “yes”] Let’s suppose you gave me permission to randomly ask the people who you want to participate in this workshop the same question I just asked you, that is, “What are the goals of your team?” Do you think they will give me the same answers you just did?
“You’re not going to do that are you?” is a typical response. Actually, that is exactly the words used on three separate occasions – three different people from three different organizations. In short, they are beginning to recognize something meaningful, but I can tell they are not sure, so I help.
I explain that most organizations try to solve problems at the relationship level because that is where some of the most annoying symptoms appear. My experience is this:
- When a group of people working together share a clear understanding of the same goals;
- When they each understand their individual (or business unit) roles related to those goals;
- When they are “playing” by the same set of rules (written and unwritten);
- When these three things are clear, shared and in place, relationships are more productive, positive and focused on results. In fact, relationships, conflict, diversity and all that goes with them, can then become productive elements of learning, creativity, innovation and performance.
All this is not to assert that there are never interpersonal relationship problems, maybe even at the core of a problem. (Very often the problem lies in what the Arbinger Institute accurately describes as self deception.) More often than not, however, the root cause is a basic need for clarity and mutual understanding at the Goal, Role or Rule level.
So why “Relationship Development”?
I do believe there are key questions about relationships we should ask that include but are not exclusive to interpersonal relationships, such as:
- Who am I in relationship to my family (and individual family members)?
- Who am I in relationship to my vital friends?
- Who am I in relationship to my values?
- Who am I in relationship to my goals?
- Who am I in relationship to that which I serve?
- Who am I in relationship to my purpose?
I could go on but I think you get the idea. How would your life be different three months from now if you focused on Relationship Development?