The Secret to Fostering Working Relationships

Building working relationships with stakeholders both inside and outside of your department is key if you want to accomplish big things. In this part of our Business Goal Alignment series, we’ll discuss gaining buy-in across your organization—starting with the importance of building relationships outside your department.

Building workplace trust is key.

As expert relationship-building L&D pro Andy Webb says, “Make sure your entire team understands the organization's politics and is sensitive to needs, culture, and processes already in place.”

In other words, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And this old adage applies just as much in the corporate world as it does anywhere else in life. So, if you want to align your L&D programs with overall KPIs and business goals, you'll probably need access to data that’s managed by other teams—which means you might be crossing into protected territory.

“A strategic business partner that proactively provides solutions for problems before internal clients realize they have a problem is a best-in-class organization,” says Amy S. Rouse, who is a senior learning technologist at Learning without Limits. “L&D is unable to act as such a partner if they do not understand their environment.”

Consider the challenge of navigating pushback from superiors or other functions of the business who may have conflicting priorities with your department. Remember, persuasion is better than force. Get people on board and they’ll stick with you. Force them on board and they’ll jump ship when things get rocky. Let’s consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1: The demanding coworker

It’s Monday morning. You’re planning your week when a coworker from another department (and who you’ve only spoken to a handful of times) shows up at your desk and immediately requests detailed information from your team without providing further explanation. What’s your first reaction?

Chances are, you’ll feel hesitation followed by frustration. Why is someone, who you barely know, asking for something that belongs to you and your team? And why should you hand it over?

Scenario 2: The considerate coworker

It’s Monday morning. You’re planning your week when a coworker from another department drops by and asks about your weekend. After a few minutes of friendly conversation, she explains a project she’s working on that would benefit from your team’s input.

She knows you’re busy, so she’ll schedule a meeting at your convenience to provide details and give you a chance to ask questions. Your first reaction is a little different than in the first scenario, right?

That’s because your coworker appreciated your team’s time and contributions. Rather than make demands or assumptions, she wanted to better understand your role and how you can work together. She’s building trust, which means you’re more likely to hand over the data she needs.

And that’s just it—the secret to getting what you want is knowing how to build trust and foster office relationships with your coworkers while also understanding your organization's culture and processes.

“L&D must absolutely understand the corporate culture, leadership, and learner needs (in each business segment) as well as the various processes to remain a relevant, reliable business partner,” says Amy, whose 22 years of L&D experience includes being responsible for more than 400,000 learners. “L&D will be seen as a true business partner that seeks the best for the company’s and client’s bottom lines.”

Amy knows what can happen when L&D doesn’t understand an organization’s needs or culture.

“L&D is not seen as a business partner nor a needed entity,” she says. “Potential for outsourcing the function, downsizing, or relegating the team to formal compliance and safety.”

Once you've initiated the first step to building trust, it's important to follow through and be well prepared for your next approach.

Broker for data the right way.

Lori Niles-Hofmann, a senior learning strategist with more than 20 years of L&D experience, knows firsthand gaining access to data from other departments.

“Data is the new currency,” says Lori, who is responsible for nearly 90,000 learners. “Anyone who has it often does not want to share it. Likewise, while data can yield insights, without accompanying context, it can become the start of negative conjecture.”

Lori recommends this four-step approach when brokering for data:

  1. Be explicit about how the data will be used and shared. No one wants to be blindsided with misappropriated metrics. Formally agree not to use data in presentations without the approval of the data provider. This goes a long way toward building trust.
  2. Sanitize the data as much as possible. With so many regulations about privacy, most data collectors err on the side of caution and decline requests for metrics. When it does not dilute the value, ensure all data is anonymous and aggregated.
  3. At the start of the relationship, don't ask for data that's not already collected. Begin by working with what's already tracked and grow from there. Failure to do so will earn you the reputation of a taker instead of a giver.
  4. Roll-up your sleeves! Often, data is collected in multiple file formats. As with the above point, do not expect other teams to take on extra work for your benefit. Be prepared to take on some of the analysis until a relationship is fully negotiated.

If you're prepared to put in some work to build trust and ask for favors the right way, you'll be well on your way to building an aligned, cross-functional network of colleagues.

Up Next: Raise Your Hand

Stay tuned for the next post in our Business Goal Alignment series. We'll explore how taking on a little cross-departmental responsibility can yield serious results for your team. Be sure to subscribe to Watershed Insights to have the latest posts sent straight to your inbox.

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And the learning measurement survey says...

See how global changes have affected the world of learning and development by reading the results from our sixth annual survey with LEO Learning. It shares an evolving picture of L&D’s relationship with measurement and business impact—including real-world examples and extended commentary.

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