Throughout my professional life, I have heard from more than one mentor that relationships are the key to success.  What may appear as a daunting task, project, or challenge becomes possible when the right individuals, with a variety of strengths, work together as a team.  In this context, I had misinterpreted that wise counsel to mean that the relationships were important primarily as a means to an end (the business success).  What I have learned is that, in addition to achieving success for the organization, strong relationships also make going to work personally meaningful.  As someone who has been in the workforce for many years, I have found that inspiration and motivation around earning a living in “the rat race” can ebb and flow over time.  Focusing on relationships as the most meaningful part of my work now sustains me through both the inspired times and the inevitable lows.

I realized how much I value relationships when I was at a particular low point, questioning like so many of us do when we’re tired, “Is this rat race really worth it?  Does it mean anything?”  I actually enjoy asking those questions on some level, even when such introspection can lead to doubt.  I found myself asking, “What really matters to me at work?”  The answer was surprisingly right there, just beneath my conscious awareness.  The names of people rose up to consciousness – names of colleagues and customers and realizing that we care about each other both professionally in getting the job done and also personally in supporting each other as human beings with lives beyond the work.  We were “taking it personally” in a good way, genuinely caring for each other.

Now that I know the primary source of meaning for me professionally, I am getting better at consciously cultivating relationships, the ones that are already strong as well as those that are more difficult and need improvement.  As a result, I am happier and more effective at work.  When there is inevitable individual or team conflict, I don’t let it fester; it is an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Bringing a relationship-focus to conflict has allowed me to more quickly recognize “good conflict” and how it drives improvement in ourselves and business.  We recently had a lot of finger-pointing across two teams.  We got in a room in-person, acknowledged the issue, shared and cleared any baggage from the past, agreed to move beyond the finger-pointing, and recognized that solving the problem and achieving business success depended on each person in the room.  Everyone took it personally in a positive way.  As a result, individuals felt better about ourselves and each other, while also agreeing on how we would move the business issue forward.

Which relationships at work do you most value?  How can you further cultivate them?  Which relationships would you like to improve?  What might you do to make it better?

Take it personally!