Culture Eats Relationships for Lunch

Certain organizations have a culture that encourages and enables the creation of new and healthy relationships among colleagues, and others have a culture that causes competition, mistrust, and toxicity.

In one of my roles, I was hired based mostly on my experience solving technical problems on many past teams. A few months in, though, I was promoted and switched career tracks into management, based on trust built with my manager and a bet on my skill development when he was also promoted. In my new role, there were all kinds of people I wanted to meet and with whom I could start building trust.

I jumped into it like I try to approach all of my work: vigorously and with an open mind. I set up a bunch of meetings to get to know department heads and team leads across the business. To a person, everyone was open, inviting, and ready to trust me as a new leader on the team. They had patience for me, time for me, and they assumed that we would build a fruitful relationship. And I worked hard to make sure their confidence was not misplaced.

In another role at a different company, I was hired into management. Gaining the trust of the team did not take long, but this time when I reached out to set up meetings with departments heads and team leaders outside of my immediate department, I was met with significant amounts of impatience, skepticism, and disinterest. Not everyone, of course: there were wonderful and generous people, but I got the sense that these people were great on their own—they were not expected to be open, inviting, and ready to trust as part of the company culture.

Years on, I look back and can validate some of my experience: the culture of that second company did not encourage the type of openness and trust that enables strong relationships to be built. Rather, the strong relationships there were more often built to cope with a larger culture of unhealthy competition and a lack of trust across departments. That culture ended up eating away at the good will and assumption of trust that people can be led to give, to build stronger teams.

As you reflect on culture, think about whether yours is one that encourages and enables new relationships across the organization, or whether people too quickly mistrust or show disdain for their colleagues. Because, while having a culture that is strong enough to “eat strategy for breakfast” can be powerful, having one that eats your relationships for lunch will leave you hungry and weak.

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