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Why relationships are more important than people

"Our people are our most important asset" is a well-worn and an admirable sentiment. And in a way it's true - all things being equal, an under-qualified, inexperienced workforce won't produce the same quality of work as a group of highly skilled experts. We rightly value great people and should always strive to gather the best teams and collaborators around us.

But there's a but. For most companies, their efforts to attract the best employees are replicated by any number of competitors. Many employees are even hired directly from competitors, and vice-versa. This means that, objectively, your people are probably pretty interchangeable with your competitors' people in terms of skills, experience and knowledge. They're still vitally important, but they do not in themselves give you a competitive advantage over anyone else.

There's another important aspect to the potential of your people however - one that can elevate them above their equally skilled and knowledgeable peers in other companies: the relationships between them. It's relationships that allow a team to become more than the sum of its parts. To quote Todd Davis's Book Get Better:

"An organization’s greatest asset isn’t only its people; rather, it’s the relationships between its people that is the greatest predictor of personal and professional effectiveness. In the end, employees’ ability to build and sustain great relationships is an organization’s ultimate competitive advantage."

This distinction neatly summarises the whole impact of culture. Building a great team with a high performance culture isn't just about employing the smartest people; it's about nurturing the relationships between them so they can work together effectively.

Many companies invest in psychometric profiling tools to allow their staff to understand themselves and their colleagues better, often with enlightening results and improved appreciation of others’ unique views on the world. Knowing that Claire in marketing is 'results driven' and prefers concise, to-the-point communication is clearly helpful when you need to work together on a project.

However, these tools can also be guilty of ‘pigeonholing’ people in rigid categories - Introverted, Methodical, Analytical, Creative. This has the negative effect of caricaturing people into limited skill-sets, with narrow capabilities and capped potential.

My own experience of this as a predominantly logical, analytical type is the inference that creativity and idea generation should be left to someone else. I've also worked with hard-headed, results-focused leaders who are simultaneously immensely empathetic and caring. Your most confident presenter might also prefer to work quietly alone at times (extrovert vs introvert). Our dominant characteristic isn't all we are.

At 4and20million, we use Lumina Spark in this area, having researched a number of providers, studied for and now qualified as Lumina Spark practitioners. Lumina measures the strength of different characteristics independently rather than either-or, meaning someone could be high on introversion AND extroversion, with these traits coming through in different ways and at different times (perhaps you're comfortable taking the lead in a group, but less comfortable presenting to a room full of people).

To allow for this more rounded picture of personality, Lumina creates three different 'portraits' - our underlying self, everyday persona and over extended personality, measuring the differences in traits like spontaneity, competitiveness and adaptability over these three different portraits.

While this sounds overly complex, the output is an easy to compare portrait that allows people to better understand how they change their approach in different situations - which traits they might need to dial up more when under pressure, and which they are naturally led by day to day.

Advanced psychometrics: The Lumina Spark wheel

Having this insight across a team then becomes even more powerful - by comparing each other's dominant traits, it becomes possible to spot collective blind spots. Maybe there is no one in your team who is particularly conceptual or imaginative day to day. Or perhaps when under pressure, you're missing the benefit of someone evidence-based and practical.

An area where I've personally found this analysis most useful is in seeking out my opposite - the person who's blend of traits is the most opposite to mine. If you can identify this person, they are an ideal sounding board and stress-test for your ideas, as they'll naturally see things from an opposite perspective that you probably haven't considered. The natural result of this is a greater appreciation for diversity and acceptance of other perspectives.

"Having experienced a Lumina Spark workshop, I have become more and more effective in my ability to run projects and handle the people side of things, and my teams are experiencing less conflict." (Lumina Spark participant)

These personality profiling tools aren't a silver bullet for better interpersonal relationships - good old fashioned team building, good leadership, trust, a feeling of safety and regular feedback are all vital components in creating an environment where people can build strong relationships and bring the best out of each other. But there is a clear benefit in taking the time to understand ourselves and our colleagues better in a measured and well rounded way, both to the team and the individual.

I'll leave the last word to Tony Robbins:

"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others."


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