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The Value of Establishing Relationships Throughout the Organization

A Mini Case Study

Here is a story of a project manager who did not see the value of spending time establishing relationships with others.

We’ll call him Jack. Jack has been managing projects for about 5 years. In that time, he has always had project team members who reported to him. He never bothered to get to know others within his company. From his point of view there was no need. He only worked with 4 project team members who reported to him.  He told them what to do and, of course, they listened. He was the boss after all. He never engaged with stakeholders. He left that to his team. However, about 5 months ago the organization where Jack worked merged with another organization. This organization pulled project team members from throughout the organization to work on projects; they did not report up to project managers. The project managers reported into a Project Management Office. And the new organization expected that project managers engaged and involved stakeholders in projects. The culture was completely different.

Jack’s next project included individuals from throughout the organization who were on the team and a list of stakeholders that expected to be included in regular meetings. He had never worked with any of the team members prior and, while he knew the names of the stakeholders, he had never really gotten to know any of them.

The First Meeting

The first meeting of the team included 5 team members representing a number of business functions along with 10 key stakeholders from throughout the organization. At the start of the meeting Jack shared with the group the finalized project scope and project schedule that he had developed prior to the meeting.  And Jack’s problems began….

The sponsor commented that the project scope still needed to be developed and that is why the 10 stakeholders were in attendance. They were there to provide input to the project so the scope could be developed and finalized based on their needs.

The first meeting was scheduled to last 3 hours. The sole purpose of the meeting was to engage stakeholders in conversations about the project to develop the scope. Within 15 minutes it was apparent that Jack was at a loss as to how to engage the stakeholders.  He had no idea how to communicate with them. One of the project team members stepped in and began to take over the meeting. He welcomed the stakeholders and talked about the project in general terms. He then directed conversations to stakeholders from different business functions and specifically noted how the project would benefit their functions and help them address either issues they were having or goals they were trying to meet. It was as if he already knew each of them. And guess what – he did!

The Value of Getting to Know Others

Because the team member had bothered to get to know the stakeholders prior to this project, he was able to engage them and manage the meeting. He could help them think about the project more clearly by linking the project to their own functions and their objectives. This enabled for a more productive meeting. At the end of the 3 hours, there was a fairly well-defined project scope that just needed some finishing touches.

What helped the team member manage this meeting and get the scope defined was his past experiences with the stakeholders. He knew them. He knew what was important to them. He knew their goals and he knew their challenges. And how did he do this? Simple….

  • He regularly chatted with others within the organization in the hallways
  • He stopped by the cafeteria in the early mornings and ate his lunch there rather than at his desk
  • When time allowed, he asked to attend department meetings other than his own department in order to better support others and their initiatives through his project work

Through these sometimes casual connections and through taking the time to engage with others within the organization, the team member built relationships with others. Through relationships, he was better able to engage with key stakeholders and get them committed to the project by linking the benefits of the project directly to them and what was important for them.

In Summary

Only through strong working relationships can we truly work effectively with others. Because the team member had invested time in getting to know and build relationships with others throughout the organization; he was better able to direct the conversation and accomplish the goals of the meeting – to develop a scope that was agreed to by all stakeholders. He did this by helping them see how the project would help them meet goals or address challenges they were having within their functions.

Taken the time to build relationships throughout the organization is essential for anyone regardless of the role, and certainly key for project managers to be successful. Since project managers work throughout the organization, they must understand the goals of other divisions. Additionally, when they understand what challenges are being faced, they are more easily able to map project outcomes to addressing those challenges. What better way to get support and buy-in to ensure a successful project then helping a key stakeholder understand how the project will benefit them in the long run.

So – how are you doing in developing relationships in your organization?

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