Connecting with your team and clients

Being able to build a good relationship with your clients and team is vital to the success of your projects and programs. Failing to have that connection can lead to issues not only with the delivery of your project but being able to work in the project at all. During this blog, I’ll give some ideas for what you can do to connect with your team if you’re struggling and advice if you’re struggling to find a connection.

Be yourself!

One of the most important things to build a successful relationship is being yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not (either too loud/too quiet etc). People can see when you’re not being honest and it’ll come across negatively towards yourself.

Find some common ground

It sounds very easy, doesnt it? Find something that you can both talk about. It needs to be something more meaningful than the weather but could be anything non work related. When I first go to clients, I try to look for clues: Are they an athlete? is there anything in their office that could give away a hobby/interest? What about style? Once you have this, you could start asking questions at appropriate points to learn more/build a rapport.

Devote time to your relationship

Rome was not built in a day and nor will a meaningful relationship. I recommend making sure that you take the time at the start of the project or engagement to spend time with your team and really get to learn what makes them tick, what motivates them and what is important for them. To do this, I recommend building a “team charter” to make sure everyone agrees on what’s important for the project and team.

Build a team manifesto

I also like to do some team building outside of work to really get to know them on an informal level. This could be something as simple as going for dinner/lunch or doing a small activity. The only thing to consider are peoples activity levels (e.g. going go-kart racing might sound like fun but if one of your colleagues has health issues, this might not be the best idea!)

Learn about your team

This could be through psychological testing / interviews/ reading their biographies but you need to learn who you are going to be working with, what sort of personality they are and what makes them tick.

When I’m working with clients, I ask people that know them/already have a relationship to ask for some hints/advice and then I’ll try to arrange for a coffee/lunch on neutral territory to learn more about their motivations and what works for them.

After each ‘session’, I make private notes on each person so that i can refer/update this as necessary and I think that this is really important to see and understand the team that you’re working with.

Another aspect of learning about your team is paying attention to them. This isn’t just about what they are saying but also how they react with others in the team, what their behaviour indicates (e.g. stressed, bored).

Build a relationship forever, not just a project duration

If you look at your relationship as a longer term committment then it can be more rewarding. For me, some of the colleagues that I’ve met over a decade ago, remain some of my most trusted colleagues who I ask for advice and trust with their opinion. In German there is a saying: You always meet twice in life (man sieht sich immer zweimal im leben), I like to look at this as an opportunity to be able to create a working relationship where we can work together again (and successfully!).

An example of this was during a project I was running in 2014. I got to know some of the developers and I mentioned over lunch that I was running the Leiden marathon that weekend. They said: “Oh! I live on the route”. I didn’t think anything of it until the day and at the 24th kilometer, I get a loud cheer and screaming my name. My colleagues had set up an impromptu “aid station” with drinks, snacks and support for me along the route. It was a wonderful surprise and memory of the day.

What a surprise! Picture courtesy of Jeroen van Gent
Picture courtesy of Herein van Gent

What if it’s doesnt work?

Sometimes, you just don’t mix. If that’s the case, then I recommend always remaining professional and working in a constructive way. I’d also look to see if there are ways to improve your relationship or work out why you don’t mix/can’t build a relationship? Is there a reason for it? Look and see where you could build bridges and connect and see what might work for you both.

For more information, check out this TedX video on the topic of how to connect with anyone

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