In 2023 I will continue exploring ideas about how relationship-building works in the increasingly hybrid working environment in which we now find ourselves.

Whilst there is a wealth of information and people talking about how organisations embrace the new world of office work, the coverage given to inter-organisational working is not as explicit. Many professional services businesses are relationship-based; they depend on interpersonal factors to successfully find, win and deliver their work.

Traditionally, much of that relationship-building happened by osmosis because people spent time together in the same physical offices. Without shared physical working environments, the risk is that work will become harder to deliver because necessary relationships either won’t be built or will become more easily strained.

How do we go about building relationships effectively in this changed world? Well, it seems to me to be a classic Wicked Problem – that there isn’t, despite what the productivity gurus might sell, a set of right answers. And so I’m going to run a series of small experiments over the course of 2023 to see what happens.

The first of these experiments is already up and running – #100Coffees

The next I’m planning for next month – Brown Bag* Conversations.

The theory underpinning this experiment is that, from my own experience, a very useful and valuable way to build relationships is to introduce people to one another.

Because of my somewhat diverse career history (a social scientist working in technology, with meanders into learning and development and marketing along the way, and with a breadth of industry sector experience thrown into the mix) I have a reasonably diverse network of contacts amassed over the last 30 years.

As a result, I can often make connections between people I know that maybe wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise. I also really enjoy being able to refer people to experts when my own jack of all trades eclectism runs its course.

The hypothesis for the experiment is can I find a way to be able to extend my network and its diversity through into the Equal Experts network of employees, consultants and clients?

“The way” will draw on the experience I have built up running the WB-40 Podcast with Chris Weston over the past seven years – running live online (Zoom) interviews with people who run interesting businesses that are adjacent to what we do at EE (which is, in simplest form, building software) for the EE network.

The aim of these “Brown Bag” sessions will be to succinctly introduce some of these people and their businesses to the breadth of the EE network in a way that achieves two key objectives:

  • to provide an interesting insight for EE network members into a business that is working with clients similar to those that we have, but with a different angle on technology, digital and change
  • and, in turn, provide the network members with a new connection who they might at some point be able to introduce to people in their own network potentially at one of the EE clients.

Why? Well, because those introductions might be of value to both parties, and we strengthen relationships as a result because we are seen as people who have relevant, useful connections.

I’ve thought pretty hard about the format for this, and it’s been driven in large part by a minimise the effort required on behalf of the people I will interview, and also to focus keenly on allowing them to sell their business.

From my own experience of freelance consulting, small businesses are too often asked to provide their professional insight for free in the name of “exposure”. So the focus will be “tell me about your business and the sorts of clients you help” rather than “give me a presentation about your field of knowledge for free”.

As such the format will consist of a 30-minute interview followed by around 15 minutes of questions from the audience, which minimises the amount of work the participants have to do. The talks will be recorded and made available on demand (initially to the network), and possibly then written up as public blog articles.

How will we know if the experiment is successful? I think there are three measures of success:

  • do the participants feel that taking part was a valuable and enjoyable use of their time?
  • do the audience feel that the sessions were insightful and useful?
  • do the participants get introduced to potential clients through our network?

I’m lining up four initial participants who we’ll interview between February and Easter. The first two success measures should be relatively easy to capture at the time. The introductions one is a bit harder because these things might take a bit of time.

I will report back after the first few happen. If you are interested in being involved as a participant in the future assuming the first round go well, drop me a line at matt.ballantine@equalexperts.com

* Brown bag sessions are informal meetings held at lunchtime where participants are encouraged to bring their own lunch (hence the brown bag bit).

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