Communities and tribes. Learning about ancient tribes was one of the highlights of my high school studies, and I can remember captivating photos of people living traditional lives in exotic locations in books and magazines. Now we are hearing more of this language in the business world, and I’ve been using them a lot myself lately.
If there is one thing I believe in deeply, it’s the power of personal connection, whether in business or any other dimension of life. Formal structures and roles can never define the richness of relationships built on true human connection. When people get so consumed by the identity that they think their role confers upon them, they forget that they (and everyone around them) are just people. Roles change, but relationships last forever and transcend organisational boundaries.
On a recent family trip to visit towns like Roma, Mitchell and Dalby in country Queensland, I had the perfect opportunity to observe this in action. I was a stranger in these places but my wife was not. She had spent her first year of teaching out here, and it was incredible to witness the moments of joyful recognition she experienced from people who had not seen her for many years. In a relatively short time living amongst the community of Dalby, she had formed rich relationships that have proven to stand the test of time.
Then I began to notice other behaviours in these communities. One day as I popped into the local newsagent to buy the newspaper, I found myself far more enlightened by overhearing the local news shared in conversation between the owner and an older man who arrived just before me. Eating home-baked goodies at a café, I watched locals come in and out for coffee and a sandwich, and each of them paused for a few moments to shake hands, smile and chat with someone else they knew in that little place. And when my daughter decided that it would be a good idea to break her collar bone while on holiday, I found out for myself that just one connection in a community will lead you quickly to everyone else you need!
In these smaller towns it is really obvious that relationships are the threads that hold a community together. An opportunity to strengthen a relationship is more than a chance to have a chat. It’s a chance to share information that someone else may find useful. It’s a chance to encourage a young person to make wise choices by being honest about your own experiences. It’s a way to remind each other that no one is alone, and that reaching out for help is a strength. It’s a chance to introduce people to each other so they might achieve more together.
In a community, people don’t do these things with an eye on attaining some immediate benefit for themselves. They genuinely care about each other because they see the person, not the “teacher” or the “shop owner” or the “tourist”. They know that the health of their community relies on nourishing the health of their relationships. They know that “what goes around, comes around”. And they know that being part of something bigger and helping others feels good!
When I see these behaviours in the business world, I see people and organisations thrive. This is why I think a word like “community” is the right word to use when we talk about business relationships. Your business community is not defined by geography, by company, by industry or by organisational structure. Roles change over time, but when you connect with the person and not the position description, the richness of your relationship knows no limits.
At our Spark 2019 event I watched a large group of leaders start the day as strangers and finish the day as a community. With no role titles or company names on their name tags, they were free to connect without judgement or expectation. Conversations were personal, stories were shared, and relationships were forged.
So here are the top 5 lessons I think communities teach us about how to create business relationships that last:
1. See the person, not the role
2. Have a warm embrace, a firm handshake and an open smile ready at all times
3. A random chat could be the most productive part of your day, so don’t skip it
4. Share your experience, advice and information generously, with no expectation of reward
5. Do small things regularly that keep your relationships warm.