Task orientated or people orientated – or both?

Over twenty years ago when I did an MBA, I was given the feedback that I would sometimes focus on tasks to the detriment of relationships and that this could cause problems. I was really taken aback by this. I believed that relationships were really important and was surprised that this wasn’t coming through to others in the way that I behaved.

I have worked on balancing task-versus-relationship over the years and thought that I was doing better at it these days. However, this morning I realised that I had emailed a colleague whom I hadn’t seen for about a week, asking for some information, without even a hello. Old habits die hard it seems. Behaviour is ingrained from an early age and culture manifests itself in families as well as organisations. I remember when I first met my husband’s family, we stood outside a restaurant chatting for quite a while before entering. In that same time, my family would have been inside with food ordered, only then getting into conversation.

Colleagues across Surrey are increasingly talking about the importance of relationships, that they are hugely important in order to get high quality work done. How much more quickly and effectively are we able to progress on projects with people we know? Is it perhaps part of our human nature that we sometimes go further to help someone we know and respect, versus someone we have only spoken to once or never at all?

We need to believe that building and maintaining relationships is part of the task and a priority that is to be focused on. And yet the reality is everyone is so busy. So the undeniable and ongoing challenge is that despite many of us understanding that relationships play an important role to our work, how can we make time and space for this in back-to-back schedules? Somehow, we need to make a shift in our mental framework. The good news is that once we have high quality relationships we can, when the pressure is on, ask for advice or dive straight into the task (or into the restaurant!), because we have the trust.

Reflecting on my email to my colleague earlier, I’m challenged by what small steps I can take today to ensure that I am building and maintaining relationships over time. I pose this same challenge to you as well…

– Cate Newnes-Smith

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