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How to forge a relationship using a school uniform

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a friend to visit her niece whose daughter, Meadow, aged 5, was about to start school for the first time. Her mother assured us she was looking forward to it very much. Meadow did not know me and was shy but curious. We had tea in the garden, and Meadow’s first overture was to bring me a cupcake which she had sprinkled with rainbow hundreds and thousands. She did not speak to me, but gave me the warmest smile as she offered me the cake before disappearing back into the house. A few minutes later she returned, carrying her new grey school uniform tunic and a pair of black shoes. These she deposited on my lap without saying anything but, again, her smile spoke volumes. This time she stayed close to me as I asked her about what she wanted do at school, together with her friends. I shared memories of my first day at school and soon we had bonded.

I was reminded of Meadow whilst working this week with a fantastic team. They were very strong among themselves, but had a difficult relationship with some other teams, who they felt did not understand their way of doing things or the value of their contribution in the organization. A silo mentality was preventing collaboration.

We explored some ways in which they could break down those silos and set up communication channels from their team to others, and after 20 minutes brainstorming I realised we could use Meadow’s strategy.

1. Take the first step. Whatever has gone before, be the one to make an overture of goodwill. Offer a cupcake.

2. Find a subject that will lead to a conversation. Choose something you are eager or excited about and want to share with the other team.

3. Make the opening gambit an invitation to hear from the other team. Be curious and hopeful.

4. You don’t even need to say much; just opening up an avenue of communication is enough at first.

5. Find common interests and goals. What can we do together?

How naturally Meadow was able to do what this high performance team found so difficult.

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