Improvisation and Relationships

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Rob Cross deliver the results of a social network analysis to the top 100 R&D; leaders in a client organization. He highlighted, among other things, the importance of managing overload points as well as leveraging the periphery of the informal networks revealed by the mapping. This prompted me to juxtapose our work with relationship capital.

We define relationship capital as the sum total of interfaces, interactions, and interventions among and between people. It includes the tacit, often unrecognized behaviors and patterns of interaction that define and differentiate an organization’s performance. The practice of the Politics of Creativity helps leaders more effectively invest in relationship capital.

An essay in the McKinsey Quarterly entitled “Competitive Advantage from Better Interactions” helpfully describes how tacit interactions more and more define how employees must relate to one another. (The authors’ research was based on a study of some 8,000 companies.) One of their conclusions: “Tacit interactions reduce the importance of structure and elevate the importance of people and collaboration. …Tacit work is improvisational and difficult to define in advance, for it follows the problem being solved and the nature of the opportunity at hand.”

I actually spent a day not too long ago at an improvisational workshop with Stevie Rae. While it may seem like a big stretch from an improv routine to a research lab, there were many aspects of the workshop that informed our work with “relationship capital”. For example, Stevie Rae reminded us again and again, “At the end of the day, the audience won’t remember your words but whether they liked playing with you.” ‘

When, if ever, have you last asked yourself the question “What feeling or emotion do I want others to leave this conversation or presentation with, not simply what information?” This is a specific way for one to invest more in relationship capital. Too simplistic? Too soft? Pay attention and see what happens.

There is mounting evidence that such tacit dimensions differentiate those who successfully generate trust and establish an environment where creativity and innovation flourish. All the information and data in the world is no substitute for some of the most rudimentary principles of building relationships that are more than connections on a network map.