Q: My problem is my new boss. He treats me well but is very ineffective within the organization. As a result, I have a hard time getting cooperation from other teams and think that some people’s dislike of him plays out against me. What can I do? — Terrence, 30, marketing analyst
A: Focus on building relationships independent of your boss’s reputation. Obviously, this won’t be a quick fix. If you can’t get the time of day with people, it’s hard to establish a minimal connection, much less a successful working relationship.
Before you try change the situation, think about the underlying drivers of the dysfunctional relationships. Your options will differ depending on whether, say, he doesn’t follow through on commitments vs. he has a difficult personality. Then consider if there are reasons that this reaction may carry over to you. People may feel like, “It’s no good trying to work with ‘Phil’s’ department.” Maybe your predecessor followed your boss’s lead and so people are not inclined to try again.
Take one more objective look at the big picture. Are you sure the lack of cooperation is really due to him? Or do these people also stonewall others rather than being good team players?
Consider your personal skills for working effectively with people. Think back to successes and challenges you’ve had in tough interpersonal situations. What do you need to succeed here?
Cutting to the chase, the best way to get people to work with you is show them that working with you will be productive and pleasant. If you are new to the team, you have a perfect opportunity to do a reset. Set up quick meetings with people where you can give a short intro about yourself, your role, your values at work and so forth.
Then, at the heart of your agenda, ask about them. Find out what they need from your department — from you — and the ways they would like to work with you. Few people can resist being asked about themselves and how their needs can best be met, so this may be the only thing you really need to do.
Then be impeccable in your follow-up. For example, if people want a certain amount of lead time on requests, if possible, do your best to honor that. Be respectful of their time and resources, and go above and beyond if they have a request of you. Be thoughtful and remember the personal details. If someone cancels a meeting because of a sick child, take a moment to ask how they’re doing. Being kind goes a long, long way.
These steps may not work with everyone. At some point, if you need something and they aren’t coming through, you will have to escalate it. Even then, do so with as much face-saving as you can for them, at least on the first round. Hopefully they will see that you are serious about getting what you need and it will get easier.
Keep nurturing these relationships and you may find you are just what the team needed to build successful collaborations.