Five things to do to avoid relationship breakdowns

It’s not you it’s me…
Breaking Up is Hard to do – so try to avoid it….
Relationships, both personal and professional, have natural cycles. They form, they blossom, they mature.

Often they come to a natural end. Those can be planned, agreed and well managed. More often though, the end isn’t planned, it happens because one side triggers the end.

Trust has gone, or reduced, the original fire of joint ambition has been extinguished and ultimately your partner decide they want to “see other people”. In the business environment of outsourcing, this is a costly event. The loss (for vendor and client) of a large outsourcing relationship leads to a whole lot of pain, effort, lost momentum and increased cost.

To re-tender takes significant energy. It’s unlikely to be done in less than a year and, depending on the complexity, the transition to a new performing relationship can take a whole lot longer. So what can parties do to rekindle that trust? What can they do to keep the flame of togetherness burning bright? even during some difficult times together.

Here are five key tips for improving performance and trust through difficult times. Each of these can make a difference to results, collectively they can turn a dysfunctional relationship into high performing results.

Five things to avoid a relationship breakdown

1. Keep dialogue open, exploratory and authentic
The more candid, clear and real your conversations are with your partner, the greater the likelihood of keeping trust and alignment during even the toughest of times. Find a way to express your feeling as well as your thoughts. Both of those dimensions will give a deeper awareness. Also don’t get locked into only speaking to people with a certain level or role. The different views of different levels can provide a much richer understanding. If you find yourselves in an entrenched position, don’t just focus on the differences, look for commonality, where are you aligned? Use this as the foundation to build on.

2. Intensive care approach to material issues
When things are really tough it often helps to take a narrower solution focus. At these times it is about “keeping the patient” alive, to give yourself time for nursing the service back to full health. You can reap rewards by adopting some of the disciplines of an intensive care unit (ICU) within the hospital. They create a culture for change, improved cooperation and interaction between multidisciplinary teams of clinicians. They have processes which are structured to bring in a wide range of opinions and input to help save lives. I know one large UK business that automatically have people from over 50 functions join all initial “Sev 1” incident calls…As the diagnosis progresses, those who are not
needed drop off, it results in a highly engaged collaborative environment where everyone is focus on a resolution. They swear by it, and their service is amongst the best in the industry. Use this strategy to get on top of major problems, and give yourself the ability to then focus on deeper root cause and resolution activity.

3. Do it together, not apart
By regressing into your own team, it is accepting the situation is broken. It can increase resentment and often manifests in language and views that divide “them and us”. By recognising the importance of communication and joint working it allows you to acknowledge that the relationship is not working yet, at the same time, create a chance of growth and change. It replaces resentment and anger, with empathy and exploration. Together works, even in the hardest situations.

4. Re-contract about what “good looks like”
It’s often the case as months and years go by that clarity of “what success is” diminishes. The good disciplines of start-up and transition are often not maintained. As the client and vendor worlds evolve, there becomes changing or divergent priorities and views. Take time to redefine what “10 out of 10” looks like. Then, consider from where you are today (might be 5 out of 10), ask yourselves, what would we need to do to make it a 6, i.e. one notch up towards our goal. Get specific, it can unlock actions and focus that is being diluted through different understanding.

5. Get the extended teams involved
It’s not unusual for the senior teams to find a constructive way to re-contract or agree on actions for improvement. It is much harder to get sustained action and momentum when those same executives are not in the room. Engage both extended teams, at all levels, and give them then the space and empowerment to work together to resolve key problems. It’s rare that even the toughest of problems are not solved when you unleash the power of both organisations. After all, the extended teams will know all the problems that need addressed, not just those that hit the executive table.

-Martin Ewart

10th June 2016