Collaboration and the ability to partner with other teams / organisations are now high on the list of skills required to future-proof businesses. However, the real results will come from creating a culture of collaboration – especially learning to partner effectively across healthy personal and professional boundaries. Ultimately, it is about the relationship-centred behaviour changes that leaders and teams need to make in order to build relationships of mutual trust and respect. Strong relationships facilitate open conversations across home-work-life tension points so that key priorities/concerns at the intersections of these boundaries can be addressed.
This is one of three blogs looking at shifts in mindsets, behaviours and cultures required for future-proofing businesses. The two other blogs around future proofing businesses are – creating a culture of healthy boundaries so individuals are empowered to respect and give space to the things that matter most to them in life and creating a culture of support for employees’ real-life cycles (vs traditional employee career life cycles).
Creating a culture of collaboration across boundaries
Working effectively across boundaries has to start with creating a culture where people can speak freely about all aspects of their lives.
Ever since technology made employees accessible 24/7, the personal/professional divide was crossed. Nevertheless, this divide still exists in the minds of both employers and employees, and in the language of work.
This helps to explain why the relationship casualties in marriages and partnerships that everyone is seeing around them – and experiencing personally – have gone largely unmentioned, unnoticed and unaddressed in the workplace. That in itself is a moot point. Previous generations tend to think that “the right thing to do” is to keep personal relationship issues private and out of the workplace. That set of values and assumptions is definitely changing with the next generation.
Millennials (the generation expected to dominate the workforce over the next decade) have a more integrated approach to work-life, using technology and their “always on” digital culture to move seamlessly between work and home demands, as well as conversations about those demands, and they bring this expectation of more “fluidity about life” to the workplace. This means that organisations and leaders need to get better at collaborating as seamlessly across all aspects of life – starting with developing a culture that allows you to talk about all aspects of life.
Currently the expectation – overtly or covertly – is that we must all leave our personal lives at the “office door”. However, as the tide shifts, we need to improve our ability to collaborate, negotiate and agree healthy boundaries effectively as “whole” rather than divided people, in order to manage inevitable home-work-life tensions and reduce stress.
One of the real challenges to successful work-from-home arrangements is the guilt that people who work from home suffer.
At a recent event to discuss mental health and work-from-home experiences, many participants reported feeling guilty and putting pressure on themselves to justify every second of their use of time. So much for flexibility in order to help reduce stress and gain better work-life balance.
The research on Relationship Breakdown and the Workplace highlighted that most people experiencing relationship difficulties did not discuss their challenges with their employers, even though employers generally end up paying for it – through reduced performance and productivity. Some 45% of the survey respondents identified problems in romantic relationships as a risk to the business and something that corporates should be addressing.
Currently, this is not something that most organisations talk about, yet alone measure.
Over the last decade, we have gotten better at talking about issues like gender, race, sexuality and mental health in the workplace.
Hopefully over the next decade we can get good at talking about the home relationships that form a significant part of our lives too. Often it is these relationships that provide the motivation for our work. More importantly the quality of these personal relationships have a direct impact on individual vitality and performance at work.
Being able to collaborate effectively across healthy boundaries demands a new culture of trust and respect, and a mindset of collaboration. However, partnering and collaborating effectively across differences and distances require a level of emotional intelligence, particularly around relationship competence, that has not been required before.
Given that there could be up to five different generations working together in one office, there is an ever-bubbling melting pot of deeply held values and assumptions that, without skills in building great relationships could fuel the already present inter-generational conflict in the workplace.
In order to build great relationships we each need to develop our own ability to build rapport and connection with people of all types, and have courageous conversations about topics that could be personal/tricky/confrontational. It also means being open and curious rather than critical and judgemental about values that might be in complete opposition. Of course, high on the list of skills required for great relationships, is getting good at using inevitable conflict to strengthen. rather than damage relationships
Quite often the focus for addressing workplace conflict is on building conflict resolution skills rather than building understanding and respect for fundamental differences to help strengthen relationships and mitigate conflict in the first place.
No one comes pre-packed with these skills and so we must become intentional and proactive about learning them.
Yet nowhere is there a consistent focus on developing strong relationships skills. Emotional intelligence (at the core of which is relationship competence) is identified as one of the key skills of the future by the World Economic Forum. This is one skill that robots and AI cannot replicate.
However, concerningly, the research showed that neither employers nor employees had clear strategies for building strong relationship capability and reducing the likelihood of personal relationship breakdown. The onus is on organisations to equip their people to collaborate and build great partnerships both at work AND at home so that risks of productivity loss through broken relationships are reduced.
Quite often with culture change the challenge is knowing where to start…
A great way to introduce equipping people around relationship competence for both work AND home relationships is by providing training at natural transition points – like promotion to team lead or senior management, going off on expatriate assignments or having a first child. These life transitions all impact relationships at home and work and demand more skills in collaborating across boundaries so people are more open to being equipped with skills to support them through these transitions.
Of course to really future-proof businesses, the goal is to have a proactive approach to equipping people with strong relationship skills as a natural part of professional development from as early as induction. Many of the problems we will have to solve in the future are not yet known. But what we do know, is that the creativity and innovation to design the solutions will come from people, not robots. And the companies who equip their people to build strong relationships around them and collaborate effectively across healthy boundaries of all types will be the ones that gain competitive advantage.