Why Relational Working Matters

It’s exciting that so many inspiring new business operating models are coming to the fore, whether Holarchy or Holacracy, or the Giles Hutchins style nature-inspired models. It’s heartening (and not that surprising considering Vision 2050, B-Corps, Net Positive and other business movements) that it is business that is driving change and, in many ways, leading the sustainability agenda.

The traditional ‘top-down, ‘command and control’ systems are seen to be creaking and many business leaders know a new approach is needed. The alternative models use new structures to drive transformation which seems to work as far as it goes. But transformation takes time and given that the business world is competitive by its very nature, those people that succeed in business will continue to adopt a more competitive, ‘me-first’ approach, at least for a time – this is the traditional way to get noticed and get on. Another alternative, and a way to really embed organisational transformation, would be to properly recognise certain, existing, behaviours, which are of tremendous, if hidden and unrewarded, value to businesses:  that is ‘relational practice’.

What is relational practice? Joyce Fletcher’s ground breaking study ‘Disappearing Acts’identifies relational practice as collaborative, enabling, supportive and task-focussed behaviour (rather than personal achievement focussed). This sort of working also uses soft skills, engaging emotionally with colleagues.  It is collaborative rather than competitive and can make up the absolute glue and cohesion in any department or organisation. It is going on in many, if not all, organisations – and is more often (but not always) used by women. It can involve working way beyond one’s job role to get the job done, and looks at the whole outcome and product, rather than one’s visible personal role and advancement. For this reason it is useful to an organisation, but also for this reason it is usually overlooked and ‘disappeared’. Relational practice is rarely understood as a deliberate style of working, it is instead viewed as a personality trait or even as simple naivety.

In the People Department here at Anthesis, I am interested in how we can start to reward and recognise such behaviours as a legitimate business practice designed to deliver outcomes and to a harmonious working environment. One of the first ways to do this is to bring it to attention – what Fletcher calls ‘naming’– which is what I am doing here – talking about it!

Personally, I am certainly closely watching the development of new business practices whichever systems are adopted, and it is my hope that a wider understanding and recognition of relational practice can help to support and drive the transformation.

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