Letting small things remain small things

The things that mess with most relationships are rarely the “big” things / the fundamental disagreements. They’re an accumulation of the many small things that have been blown out of proportion.

It follows that one of the defining characteristics of relationships that both endure and thrive (high % of positive interactions/total interactions) is the often conscious commitment on both sides to let the small things remain the small things.

Friday connect-the-dots time

Here’s an idea for today/Friday. Take 10 mins – or maybe 30 – today and just invest in connecting the dots for yourself or others.

What does connecting the dots even mean? We are, for the most part, working in places that are matrixed and cross-functional while dealing with problems that are multi-faceted. So, you can think “dots” as the people in these places or ideas that constitute the many facets of the problems we face.

Here are some examples –

People: Find time to get to know two colleagues you work with personally, block an hour to have a get-to-know conversation with your manager (under the pretext of career development if needed), or organize a lunch or activity for your team.

Ideas: Take the time to delve into a hard problem, map out your development goals, start a monthly internal newsletter sharing insights from your customer conversations, or interview someone who is either insightful or productive.

Start with a small idea today. Then, rinse and repeat next week and the week after until connect-the-dots time is a fixture on your calendar.

Every one of our workplaces and jobs thrives on connection – between people and ideas. These connections make workplaces more collaborative, productive, and smart. While it might seem like we’re spending time on “extra-curriculars,” it is the unsaid bullet in all our job descriptions.

And, tiny, consistent investments in making these connections can transform our outputs and outcomes.

Things that do not scale – in business and life

On balance, growing our business requires us to do things that scale. We need processes, infrastructure, and systems that help us deliver value to hundreds, thousands, or even millions at a time. You may not want to over-think scaling as you find product-market fit – but, beyond that, businesses that succeed do a good job with scaling.

The dichotomy here is that our life and careers work the other way around. The more you obsess about scaling your impact, the less you contribute in the rooms you are actually in. The more you attempt to personalize, the less personal you are.

Deciding to not do things that scale means doing fewer things – but doing them in a way that is authentic to us. It means adding our brand of thoughtfulness to the emails we send. It means demonstrating our brand of extraordinary care to the folks we touch on a daily basis. And, it means writing those thank you notes.

Our contribution, and ensuing impact, on people are often determined by our ability to consistently do things that do not scale.

Reason, season or lifetime

A few years back, I came across a model for relationships that has stayed with me. It said people come to your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

Folks who come in for a reason are like guardian angels who swoop in for a short period of time – right when we need them. Folks who are in for a season are with us for a few years – bringing wonderful memories and moments from those times. And, folks who are in for a lifetime find ways to stay with us all the way through.

It gets harder to maintain close relationships as we grow – especially if physical proximity isn’t a given. We change, others change, contexts change, and so on. A lot of the angst in relationships (as in life) comes from an inability to deal with this impermanence.

The beauty of the reason-season-lifetime model is that it reminds us of that impermanence. In retrospect, I can think back to a couple of relationships that didn’t end well – but which clearly existed for a reason or season. And, I can also think of a couple that fizzled out despite an incredible season. Trying to extend these into relationships that last a lifetime was futile.

Understanding and accepting past relationships for what they were enables us to forgive, forget, and simply savor the special moments.

It also enables us to let go of unnecessary baggage and travel lighter. On long journeys, that’s a great way to travel.

Building trust in relationships and teams

The research on great teams has concluded that the key ingredient is psychological safety. That, to me, is just another word for trust. Great relationships and great teams are built on trust. If you’ve ever worked in a team which operated with 100% trust, you know what such experiences are like. They are a thing of beauty and are experiences you’ll cherish forever.

It turns out that there are no shortcuts for trust. Trust is predicated on knowledge and then understanding. We can claim to know someone when we know who they are and what their story is. We begin to understand them when we begin to understand how they make decisions and why they do what they do.

Building diverse teams, as a result, requires this investment. It needs to begin by taking the team out for a day or two and spending time understanding each other’s stories. No devices, no distractions, 100% presence. It is only after such a day that we can begin to understand how and why people operate the way they do. We hear stories we’ve never heard and find ourselves opening up to perspective that we’d never have considered. Only then are we ready to get work done. We have to go slow to go fast.

This sounds like a painfully intentional approach to building diverse teams. It is. Diverse teams are rarely built by accident. When that happens, it happens because the team members are stuck in the trenches – in very difficult situation that requires them to go through the same process under stress. Such situations often creates friends for life. The process of building and operating in a great teams isn’t different.

This process also speaks to why we naturally gravitate to building teams with people who are similar to us. It is easy to understand people who are similar to us. They share similar back stories, similar backgrounds and the process of understanding takes little effort. But, in my limited experience, such teams are the equivalent of getting five guitarists together. You may have a great jam session.

But, you rarely build a great band.

And, you never have a shot at being a part of an orchestra.

Vacuuming and how work becomes meaningful

Vacuuming the home has been an ever present on my list of chores over the past few years. I cared about doing a decent job as I understand why it matters. But, it was never fun.

Until I started strapping our 6 month old baby and vacuuming the home with her.

At first, she mostly watched in silence. Then, she grew to enjoy it. And, twelve months later, it wouldn’t be the same without her. The issue is that she’s reached that point when the carrier isn’t comfortable anymore. I know it isn’t going to last for much longer – but, boy, was it a blast while it lasted.

This experience with vacuuming speaks to how work becomes meaningful. The first step is for folks to understand the “why.” Why does what they do matter? Once they understand that, merging the “why” with “who” they care about makes important work feel both meaningful and playful at once. It is these sorts of environments that make for incredible laboratories to grow, learn, and experiment.

And, in environments where people combine learning, meaning and fun, they do the work (the “how”) with great care.

This is the reason powerful visions need to co-exist with a great culture. It is the culture that ensures that people feel the kind of belonging to continue to find meaning in what they do. A vision is useless without strategy. And, culture is strategy in the long run.

PS: Getting back to vacuuming for a moment – it is another one of those reminders that the days are long but the years are short.

Invest the first ten minutes

You’ve set up a 30 minute introduction meeting to get up to speed on that project. So, you have got 3 options on what to do in the first 10 minutes –

1. Jump straight into business (with some small talk added to taste)
2. Do a quick introduction – “I work for xx team and I am now working on this project” – and get to business.
3. Invest the first ten minutes into getting to know each other

As might be obvious from the title of the post, I believe option 3 is the way to go.

Choosing option 1 and 2 is a sign that we believe that the purpose of the meeting is to get onboard quickly. Of course, they are both the more efficient options.

However, the real purpose of the first meeting with someone you are going to work with is to build a relationship of trust. And, trust requires us to first get to know them and, in time, understand them. It is this trust that will enable us to work together in a team. And, it is the bedrock of true long term effectiveness.

Also, here’s another thought – why not start every introduction meeting the same way? Sure, that one might be with someone who you just want a quick short term favor from. But, do you really know that?

What if we approached every relationship as a potential long term relationship?

Ten minutes can go a long way.