Strategic Relationship Building

Strategic Relationship Building

What is it?

“Strategic Relationship Building” helps people from organisations with different cultures and priorities work together. When you build good relationships between the top people, the work becomes more efficient and effective.

Why bother?

Despite differences, creative collaboration leads to better and more enjoyable work. You discover better ways of doing things that neither of you would have found separately. Much money and energy can be wasted by unnecessary confusion and conflict.

How do you do it?

Here is an example from my practice.

The situation

The two organisations had to work together. One was essentially a landlord. It was accountable for spending and raising public money. It liked to have tight contracts with rigid milestones and measures of progress. The other was a profit-making utility. It wanted to build plants and get them on stream quickly and efficiently.

There were tensions. The reality of constructing plants on the ground meant that the predictions of the time scales required in the contract were often wrong. It was tedious and painful for both parties to renegotiate the contract whenever a change was needed.

The solution

A manager in one of the organisations who knew the other worked tirelessly to persuade nine top people to meet for a day. My job was to facilitate the meeting. I prepared for this by phoning everybody and asking appreciative questions about their hopes and concerns about the workshop and the outcome. The questions are here. This was very useful. It built mutual trust and understanding, and I knew what they wanted.

I started the event by asking people to tell a story about a time they were happy. Everybody talked about their families. One man was in near tears as he spoke about his son. This simple exercise created a human connection between the people that was much deeper than mere “work”. They realised that the hassles they had at work were unimportant.

After this, the workshop followed typical Appreciative Inquiry lines. They looked at examples of successful cooperation between the organisations and what made these successful. Then, they built a vision of how they would like things to be in future, decided what needed to be done and started producing practical plans. You can see the detailed design here.

What is the result?

I did a phone evaluation a few weeks after the event using appreciative questions. The schedule is here. People observed they dealt better with potential areas of conflict. They were more relaxed, engaged and thoughtful. They understood each other and each other’s organisations better.

I followed it up two years later.


“Finding strategic alignment and building trust is a step in the right direction, not a leap of faith. Seeking long-term joint value increased mutual insight & understanding, which enhanced the quality of subsequent discussions.”

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If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick