“Connecting People!”


Didier Marlier

March 07, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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After covering the two first features of an “intelligent organism”, a strong and shared sense of Purpose and a purpose-related feedback loop, let’s explore the third one:

A fertile ground of relationships: An engaging Purpose and a constant feedback loop designed to help people stay aligned with it are not enough to create an intelligent organization. If our organs weren’t connected, if they didn’t “trust” each other, if “politics” were emerging between lungs, heart, brain and stomach, we would move towards death rapidly… Can you imagine the brain double-checking suspiciously the information it receives from specific parts of our body? Relationships don’t mean affection nor liking each other, it means “Connecting People”[1]. The short clip here below is a great illustration of this…


Yes, these are just birds and this would never happen to smart executives as us ;)??? This metaphor tells us why certain firms will arrive after the party is over at the “latest disruption banquet”. This type of non-relationship creates functional silos, plants the seeds for distance and neutrality (when it is not destructive through internal competition and politics) between executives and departments. We are so busy defending our own ego, our own territory that we fail to remember the real war is taking place outside… and the macho-territorial rabbits see but too late, the sociable, gregarious turtles surfing on the wave of innovation.

Numerous examples abound like the one of a software company’s call centre where the leader had noticed a very significant difference in performance (measured in number of calls taken and problems solved) between her people. The only criteria separating the two groups were smoking (high performance) and non-smoking. The informal chat, during breaks in the smokers’ ghetto, was enough to build rapport and be the fertile ground for exchange of ideas and solutions. In order to test this, I regularly include “Connecting People” sessions in the workshops I am asked to design. The principle is dead simple: Get the 50, 100 or more participants to grab a coffee, ensure they do not drift out of the conference room, in isolation with their mobile devices and ask them to… connect and talk to each other. If the discussion goes nowhere, they change partners (no offence) if they find interesting common ground, they “stay connected”. The result is always fascinating: For sure, some people (the grumpy usual suspects) won’t have found any value in the exercise. And suddenly you will hear some voices going: “Incredible, I just spoke with X and she happens to know personally the CEO of the firm we are desperately trying to get our foot in the door with. She called him from here and we will have a lunch with him next week!” A fine producer of electronic devices was formally encouraging its people to develop internal and external relational networks through some sorts of sociogram[2] based evaluations. The story has it that, when one of the world’s very few suppliers of a crucial component to their industry saw their plant go in smoke, it took that relationship based company half the time of its closest competitors to find creative, alternative sources of supply, due to the high quality relational network its people had developed in the world.

There is less of a magic formula to build those relationships but initiatives such as taking time out with the team, reducing distance by showing vulnerability and authenticity, create an open environment where people may openly share, make mistakes, admit temporary incompetence, include dialogue about the quality of one’s relational network, all contribute to it.

Relationship is not a goal per se: It is the fertile ground on which collective intelligence will grow. The clip here below is somewhat dry and theoretical but makes the point that, when two people, apparently randomly connect, they may end up lighting the fire of a chain of information, transforming them into Purpose related intelligence or information.


Let me illustrate this with a last story: Some years ago, I was working with our partners for another electronic devices manufacturer. Some bean-counting, procedure-driven people, hidden behind the meanders of a plethoric administration had decided that adult people taking parts to our workshops could only drink two glasses of wine per dinner. This, of course had triggered my rebellious self and, regularly, part of my fees were going into paying the extra bottles that would contribute to enable the relationship building. One (late) night, one of the RD engineers dropped his prototype device on the floor. In a matter of seconds, his colleagues were dissecting the remaining of the dead machine: “How did you build this in? Why did you make that? Do you think this could fit into my prototype?” Their boss saw the scene and dropped: “That last bottle is on me, it just saved the company 50 million $!!!”

Relationship building is not about the universal brotherhood of mankind, it is the third and equally important step in designing organic “intelligent organizations”.

Preparing to go to France to enjoy working with a company who has demonstrated a strong sense of purpose in successfully sailing through troubled waters! I always receive a tremendously positive energy in being with them. Have a great week all!

[1] PFE’d  in an organization I AM a fan of, which would be well inspired to remember that this is its Purpose 😉

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociogram


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