In every organization and in every assignment – every role or responsibility – there are always particular relationships that must be tended: these working relationships are critical to institutional health and effectiveness; they matter not only to the two people involved but to everyone within the organization and to everyone impacted by its mission – whether directly or indirectly.
Effectiveness in our work, within the organization, requires two things. First, we need to know which of our working relationships are particularly crucial and critical to the whole and to our own success in our roles. And, second, it follows that we would be attentive to these working relationships – tending them for the sake of the mission of the organization.
Sometimes the relationship is structural: my working relationship with the board chair, for example, is of this nature. In some ways, it is the most critical and essential working relationship in my work world and, in some cases, within the institution: the board chair and the president. It is structural in that I report to the board; I am accountable to the board chair for the quality and character of my work. Often we work together on a matter – as peers; often I meet with him with no other agenda that to ask for counsel or advice. But the principle remains: our working relationship is structural.
Other times the working relationship is, for lack of a better word, “lateral” . . . perhaps between two VPs where neither of whom reports to the other. Or between two program or department heads who recognize that though they do not report to each other, they need to work closely and collaboratively for the sake of the effectiveness of the institution.
You cannot manage too many of these – perhaps four or five, at most. But we all have them and all of them require that we ask both what it means for the relationship to be most effective and fruitful, what it is that the other person, in their role, needs from us and, of course, what we need from them.
And, I suspect, it also means that sometimes our agendas are only those of catching up on life and work and family and grandkids -- that is: the relationship is not purely professional but also personal. We do not need to be the best of friends. But we do need to draw on a shared civility and familiarity that can serve as a backdrop through those times when the working relationship has some strains and stresses.
Main point: for the mission of the organization and for your effectiveness in your role within it, know which relationships are particularly critical and essential and then take the time to tend those connections.