On Relationships and Business

In my previous article written about five months ago (My Road to the Roadmaps Group) I wrote about my personal journey since becoming an independent consultant. I ended up noting that I was meeting frequently with a small group of people calling ourselves the Roadmaps Group, wanting to do business together, but not knowing what form and when that would take. Well, since then a lot has happened Ė itís been a real learning experience. The least significant change for me is that we use the Revolution Consulting name instead of Roadmaps. What I value most is how a diverse group of four of us built a strong and powerful community amongst ourselves that serves not only us but also our client. Iíd like to try and capture what it means for me and how we got to where we are Ė I have been fortunate enough to learn some significant business and personal lessons.

This remains a journey, but one constant is that in our relationships, as in business, itís the basics that matter most, and that these basics somehow seem to get set aside the easiest. My mantra is "itís all common sense, but common sense is not all that common". The four of us (myself, Jim Spivey, Katie Laine, Ron Smith) work best as a group when we are at ease with each other, fully trusting each other, knowing that we will have disagreements, but having a certainty that they will be worked through.

For my business relationships to work with this group, my personal relationships need to work, and it is that simple realization that has made me reconsider some of my previous views of work. For instance, I have been involved in numerous reviews of IT projects over the years. There can be various focuses for such a review; typically I considered areas such as commercial (how are we doing against our contractual obligations, and how are our finances), technical (do we have a viable solution, right skills on the project, etc.), and quality (do we have good project management controls). Now, I realize that there is another area that generally I did not touch on at all Ė a relationship review (how are the people working as a team, and donít assume because there are no apparent problems that there are no problems). Improvements in this area will without question result in business improvements for the project.

So I learnt that business improvements are one positive result of being in community with others. Other positive results are you make real friends, have fun, and it just feels better. OK, so how do I think we maintain this sense of community? Itís simple but difficult, and we still fall down at times. Simple, in that all it takes is the time to be together, be completely open with each other, think out loud, accept feedback, give up your opinions to the group for the group to decide, etc. Itís difficult in that it takes time and focus. Our small group of four has to contend with geography - 2 in Houston, 1 in Austin, 1 in Massachusetts. We have to contend with scheduling - we find we need a full one or two days together every couple of months for ourselves, in addition to more tactical weekly conference calls and any other time we can grab when we are in the same area. And when we do meet we have to contend with the urge to "do work" without taking the time to unwind, say what is distracting us (could be as simple as annoyance that one of us showed up late), clear the air, and settle into a community atmosphere. I am not known for my relationship work, being more of an IT business process person, but I have recognized that if we start work straight away it is not nearly as effective as first settling in together. Even if that means we only have half as much time for the "work", more gets done. There are several examples I can recall where we recognized that we were not being effective, the problem being we had dropped out of a sense of community, the solution being to regroup ourselves, as a result of which the work was refocused.

A part of forming a group has been forming the individual relationships, which for me has happened in different ways with each person. With Jim, it took about 3 months of working and talking together about each otherís desires, which we did a couple of years ago. With Katie, it transformed in just one evening of clearing the air, after about 3 months of meeting and starting to work together. With Ron, it is a work in progress Ė because I got on with Ron at ease from the beginning I thought we were where we needed to be, but I now realize it is a longer road of discovery with more awareness being slowly uncovered at each turn.

During this period, I have also been evolving a sense of what it means to be a coach to someone. Here, I have moved from my initial reaction being "I canít call myself that", to a feeling that basically I just show up to the other person as myself, try and serve them in whatever way seems to work for both of us, and see what happens. Not very sophisticated, but then I like the simple approaches best, so this seems reasonable to me. I am sure there is more to this part of my journey to come, for instance I am not yet clear on the distinction for me between a coach and a mentor.

Another significant lesson for me has been applying some of these new relationship skills to my personal family situation, now recognizing more of the mistakes I make and trying to take steps to change. This is not a matter of right and wrong, just trying to take things to another level of closeness. Youíd have to ask my wife and kids if they see any improvements, but I feel better for the attempts, clumsy though they may be at times. I have recognized, and have seen it in others over the months, that you canít really separate work and family when it comes to improving your relationships with others. After all, who would want to work hard at improving work relationships for business benefit without wanting to work equally hard at improving family relationships for family gain? You win both ways! And you can work on both at the same time, in fact 1 + 1 = 3 when you do this.

New options are showing up all the time now, and I am eager to see what comes next. As I read what I have just written I wonder how much sense it makes to the reader, especially those who know me well (so what do you think of this mother!?!), and whether you found it worthwhile. I found it worthwhile to write, and so I feel good.

Mike Cooper, June 2000
Westford Consulting

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