By Michelle Moss, Director at TALENT AFRICA
For years, team-building and team leadership skills have been high on the wish-list of companies searching for executive talent, but the focus has always been on internal collaboration. Not any more. More and more businesses now want team players who also know how to get the most out of outsiders.
In an era of specialisation, even big businesses have to collaborate with outside contributors if cross-disciplinary projects are to be successfully completed. Even within organisations, some functions often require outside help; perhaps input in areas like IT, audit controls or other specialisations. This creates challenges for managers with inwardly focused team leadership skills.
The key to external collaboration is the human knack of building rapport, establishing relationships and developing reliable lines of communication. Here the ‘teams’ are unofficial and reporting lines informal. Mutually beneficial engagement may take days or decades.
Getting the interpersonal foundation right might take time or might be quite spontaneous and require nothing more than a smile, a chat and genuine interest in the welfare of others. Unfortunately, the knack of forming authentic relationships can no longer be taken for granted.
The 2016 Global Relationship Study by Andrew Sobel Advisors explored the gap between the importance of trusted professional relationships and the satisfaction felt by Millennials, Generation Xers and Baby Boomer in these relationships. These groups knew relationship-building was important, they just didn’t know what it took to do it.
Only 28% of respondents said they were ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of relationships with outsiders like clients and customers. Meanwhile, only 31% of Xers and Boomers strongly agreed they were able to make time to build professional relationships. Just 28% of Millennials strongly concurred.
The same study found social media was over-hyped as a relationship-builder. It might broaden personal networks, but clocking up ‘likes’ was not the same as creating trust and personal understanding. Face-to-face interaction was needed.
The researchers concluded: “To succeed … you need a handful of strong, trusted relationships with individuals who will help you out, give good advice, vouch for you and recommend you to others – not hundreds of thousands of connections with people you have never met.”
This research was closely followed by a 2017 study by McKinsey Global Institute into automation, employment and productivity.
The authors found that less than 5% of human occupations lent themselves to total automation. Partial automation is the predicted norm. Humans will perform complementary activities to the bots.
Pulling the non-automated bits together to get the job done would be a vital human contribution – one requiring collaborative skills and the human knack of creating rapport with peers handling other pieces of the puzzle.
The McKinsey team believed ageing populations would protect us from mass unemployment as “the world’s economy will actually need every erg of human labour”.
In other words, humans will still be in demand and the major call will be for those who can team up, orchestrate individual activities and pick up the pieces the robots can’t do. We will add value by staying human, staying friendly and staying on a good footing with fellow professionals. Which means the art of relationship-building will keep us in good stead as executives … and as a species.