Our team at the UN had a meeting every Thursday afternoon.
Our team was small. There were 5 to 8 of us. We were part of a bigger communications group of 40 to 60 people. Which in turn was part of the Refugee Agency. Which in turn was part of the United Nations system.
Shortly after our meeting began one afternoon; a lady entered the room and sat at the far side of the conference table. We hadn’t met her before.
When we asked her what she was doing, she replied:
“I’ve just started, I’m trying to learn more about how I can work with your team. Do you mind if I sit in and just listen? I won’t interrupt”
At the UN, attending another team’s meeting is similar to entering your enemy’s HQ and pulling up a chair while they discuss their secret plans to attack you.
It was awkward, but there wasn’t really a good pretense to ask her to leave. We couldn’t openly admit we sometimes use this time to plot against other teams or we didn’t want to share information with someone who worked for the same organization.
So she stayed and took notes. At the end she asked if there was anything else she could do to help. After that we felt that she was on our side. We listened to her future requests. We tried hard to work with her. We supported her when we could.
Naturally, it wasn’t just us. She was doing this with all the teams. She attended the team meetings and soon began sharing information from each team with one another. She worked with every group as much as she could.
6 years later, long after I’ve forgotten all the petty feuds between the teams, I still remember her and what she did. I remember how effective she was at getting things done. Far more effective than any of us were for sure. I remember how she had the support of almost every team within the unit.
And I remember just how brave she was to walk into the meetings and say the simplest words “I’m trying to learn how I can work better with your team. Do you mind if I sit in and listen? I won’t interrupt”. Most importantly, I remember her offer to help at the end.
You’ve spent years learning to build communities of friends, customers, clients, and colleagues. You’ve probably struggled to get the permission or support you need at times (and perhaps today). If I could offer one suggestion, it would be to try to understand the teams around you first. Ask to join their meetings, ask how you can help.
And do this long before you need anything from them. It takes courage, for sure, but you might just be amazed at how much easier it is to get things done when you’ve built bridging capital with every unit in your organization.