Updated: Jan 12, 2021
We sure do spend a lot of time as Managers thinking about, ruminating over, and working on the vertical relationships in our roles. And with good reason - I'm certainly not one to suggest this is inappropriate in anyway!
I do, however, want to address another struggle that many Managers face: the horizontal and diagonal relationships in our workplaces.
We probably don't give these relationships the airtime they deserve. They matter. A lot.
First, the best ideas don’t always come from within. Your co-workers have a unique perspective on your department. If these relationships are strained, quite frankly, your missing out.
Second, at least one study from the Journal of Management and Organization (referenced below) has shown that positive coworker relationships have a greater impact on your engagement than the relationship with your immediate boss. Honestly, that's a bit of a surprising finding to me, but as I reflect back, while it was always my immediate supervisors who brought the sense of purpose, growht and challenge that I craved, it really was the people beside me in my management roles who made going to work fun. They brought the joy.
Third, rarely can we accomplish as much on our own, as we can with the help of others. Your co-Managers have resources that you need to be successful, they have an impact your future plans for your department. There’s an old African proverb that says “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together. You can go much further in your Management role if you invest in your lateral and diagonal relationships.
So, there's good reason to invest in these relationships. They matter. A lot. Even if your relationships with your staff and your boss are exceptional, if these relationships are strained, you will find yourself stuck in your career journey. These horizontal and diagonal links are critical to our performance and our work satisfaction.
What does it look like to build co-worker relationships that work?
To answer this question, we need to have a conversation about POWER.
I know, I know...you probably don't love that word. The idea of power makes us uncomfortable, probably because we see power abused so often by bosses, politicians, parents, spouses...pretty much any place where power exists, we see cases of it being used for selfish motives.
We also see the opposite.
Because the existence of power, in and of itself, isn't inherently negative. It is neither good nor bad on it's own...it's how we use it that matters. But just because it rubs us the wrong way, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I may not like the concept of power, but I cannot deny I have it, as the holder of the wifi password in my home. And it would be pointless for my kids to ignore this reality, just because it’s uncomfortable.
When it comes to our organizations, this word - power - describes how things get done. Whether it’s setting goals or assigning resources or awarding credit, pretty much every decision made in an organization is affected by people asserting their influence.
Power is, quite simply, the ability to direct or influence the behaviour of other people, or the course of events. When it comes to your vertical relationships, you have positional power. The ability to direct or influence because of your title; because of your formal role in your company. When it comes to your lateral relationships, this positional power does not exist. So...you have to rely on something else. You have to rely on your personal power. Personal power is not something you can inherit or receive. It needs to created, built, established by you. Your choices, your words and your actions, over time, will earn you the kind of personal power that enables influence beyond your vertical links.
Building this personal power - the ability to accomplish things through interpersonal relationships that are outside your vertical lines - is a political skill. I'm talking about building "sway" with your co-workers - creating a scenario where they want to support you on your way to wherever you're going. And it takes intentionality, in four different ways.
Building SWAY, means to be...
1) Socially Aware
How attentive are you to social situations? Do you understand what others need? Do you understand their motives for their behaviour? Do pay attention to others' behaviours and make an effort to understand them? Are you plugged in?
2) Working your Web
Your work-world is a network. Are you paying attention to your entire network, or only your direct reports and your direct boss? In other words, are you intentionally building relationships with your co-workers? Do you initiate conversations with them? Do you get to know them personally? Do you take time to understand what's important to them?
3) Authentic. Always.
Authenticity is about your ability, your willingness, to be honest and genuine. Maybe even vulnerable. Are you open with your co-workers about what's working for you, and what isn't? Or are you in a constant state of trying to prove how knowledgeable and capable you are? Are you showing up as who you really are, or are you hiding behind your title? Authenticity inspires confidence and trust. When people can trust you, they are more likely to come alongside you. Trust creates a foundation for influence.
4) Yes-ing. Often.
Yes-ing, is about saying yes. How often do you say yes to your co-workers, even when it's not necessary? How often do you say Yes to your co-workers, before they've even asked? How often do you say Yes to your co-workers with enthusiasm, rather than with a sense of obligation and dread. You cannot say yes to everything, but you can be intentional about offering support often enough create healthy relationships. And you should.
Sway is not about manipulation. It's not about making underhanded attempts to get what you want, at the expense of someone else. Sway is about acknowledging that if you want to go far, you need to go together. It's about recognizing that these horizontal and diagonal links in your world have a lot of impact on your ability to be effective...and your enjoyment of work.
Build into your co-workers, and they....will build into you.
Basford, T., & Offermann, L. (2012). Beyond leadership: The impact of coworker relationships on employee motivation and intent to stay. Journal of Management & Organization,18(6), 807-817. doi:10.5172/jmo.2012.18.6.807