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Do you focus on Tasks or Relationships?

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

One of the reasons I’m excited about “office hours” is sharing the little pieces of wisdom that were passed along to me by my teachers and that I passed along to my students. Many of you who were at CityStudio or SFU Semester in Dialogue will recognize these nuggets and I’ll do my best to ensure that the folks I learned them from are mentioned. I honestly don’t remember where I got this chart from but I think it might be a Robert Gass wisdom from Art of Leadership at Hollyhock on Cortes Island.

One of the charts that I would draw many times in my office was a simple axis that had ‘task’ on one side and ‘relationship’ on the other. When working in a group or a team project there are moments when the entire group is focused on task - brainstorming, building, presenting, splitting up roles etc. There are other times when the group is focused on relationships - going out for lunch, checking in with each other or taking a step back to have a one on one conversation. Being able to know what you are working on is the first step in learning to become a collaborative leader.

When the clock starts to tick and deadlines are looming, there is a tendency for a group to become outcome or ‘task’ focused. We have all been there - the mad dash to get the project done at the last minute. Sometimes a few people take over and other times peoples ideas get stepped on. There can be a loss of focus on relationships and too much focus on outcome. Ideally, we find a way to keep both task and relationship at the centre of our work.

This diagram helps you think a bit more about where you are and where you might want to go next. Do you need to focus on the task or build a relationship? Maybe the group has been working really hard on the project but there are things that have happened that need to be addressed. Would it help to go out for a walk with a team member? Maybe you need to go out for lunch? Do you need to give someone a call and have tea? Or maybe you need to get your part of the project completed?

It is an amazing feeling to work on diverse teams with people who focus on both tasks and relationships. Collaborative leaders learn to focus on both tasks and relationships and reflect mindfully on where they are and where they want to go.

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