I'm very interested in the processes and systems that help people work together more efficiently and effectively. In a very interconnected world, very few of us identify and begin working on a task or a project without interaction from others - inside our organization and outside as well. There are very few people who do not need to interact with others to complete their work. What tools and systems do we put in place to help make these interactions more effective?
Something that most of us do to great effect is to establish how we'll work together. For example, a account manager may agree with her customer to call twice a week to understand how the firm is providing the products or services promised and what issues or concerns the customer has. Defining expectations and living up to those expectations are very important. Expectation management is probably one of the most important tools you have to work with when interacting with or managing other people. Establishing a pattern of work is important as well. Should the customer expect you to call every other day? What should happen in the call? Who initiates the call? We are creatures that need and crave patterns and regular, scheduled interaction.
What happens, though, when a pattern becomes a rut? How do you continue to build and grow a working relationship - whether its with a customer, a business partner or a fellow employee - without upsetting the established relationships and patterns that each of you have grown to understand and expect? It is possible I guess that some relationships or interactions don't need to change or grow, but it seems to me that most interactions can become something even more or they will become so repetitive and monotonous that they lose their impact. How do you differentiate between a pattern and being stuck in a rut?
It seems to me that one party or the other needs to introduce some "stretching" exercises into the relationship. That may mean offering a new service or capability, adding new products or services into the discussion, discussing different payment terms if appropriate. These suggestions are not meant to upset the apple cart of the established relationship, but to make sure that 1) we get everything we can possibly get out of an interaction or relationship and 2) there's enough change that relationship or interactions don't just go stale. These exercises may be as simple as the introduction of a new method of working together. We are starting to use WiKis with all of our consulting customers to improve our documentation, communication and priority setting. This introduced a change but I think one we and our customers can agree is for the better.
A great example of the relationship gone stale comes to us from the "Love Boat". Remember the Love Boat? Doc, Gopher and Captain Stubing? It's OK to admit you watched the show. The main premise on most of the episodes was generally that married couples were taking a cruise to revive their relationships. Inevitably one member of a couple would be attracted to someone on the crew or another passenger, only to realize that he or she still loved his or her spouse, it's just that the relationship had gone stale. New insights were obtained, new vistas of the relationship established, and Isaac the bartender provided some pithy insight and cold drinks. All in 60 minutes - 45 if you count commercials.
Are you getting everything out of your interactions and relationships at work? What expectations do you have about the people you work with and how you interact with them? Are you in a good pattern or stuck in a rut? How would you know the difference?