For eight years, I had a contract to coordinate a county-wide, multidisciplinary, multi-agency response team around sexual violence. I was hired to “coordinate,” “communicate,” and “organize.” I took my charge very seriously and built a well-regarded community of peers, with strong relationships across agencies, mutual trust, and a common focus.
In management circles, a lot of time can be spent talking about “deliverables” and “time management” and “efficient use of resources.” Although I had this contract for many years, I had not given much thought to my “deliverables” or whether I was using the time and resources of my agency most efficiently. Or, really, because I had done the work for so many years, I knew that my answers would not meet a management guru’s standards for “best practices.” How does one quantify relationship-building? What are the metrics? What’s the dollar value of trust between people in agencies that often do not trust each other?
Building relationships is a time-intensive, inefficient process. One short meeting is rarely enough. It takes intentional effort to go beyond the immediate transactions required to complete the tasks at hand. Authentic relationships require curiosity, empathy, a genuine interest in our colleagues as multi-faceted beings, and a willingness to share more about ourselves than our professional identity.
What are the deliverables? How does one measure the results? For me, one measure was the number of personal cell phone numbers for my colleagues I had in my phone. It was my comfort level about calling or texting them, knowing they would answer as soon as they could. It was the calls and texts I got asking for information, advice, or assistance or sometimes just to check to see if I needed anything.These connections established over time meant that when a problem arose, my colleagues trusted me to help solve it. They knew I cared about them enough to find the best solution for both of our agencies, not just my own.
Community change initiatives can require time and resources from many organizations. How often are we budgeting the time and resources needed to build authentic relationships across agencies? Are we so focused on getting the work done quickly that we are not investing the time to create trusted connections? When we put in the effort and the time, good relationships can lead to a shared vision, more satisfying transactions, and better outcomes. Isn’t that worth investing in?