By Jennifer Lalli
Senior Director of Business Development & Marketing
Preparing for an upcoming product launch? Crafting an onboarding learning journey? Building a new sales curriculum or sales leadership curriculum for your team? No matter your project, you likely need cross-functional collaborators to help you achieve your goals. This means that—along with your project plan, budget, and strategy—fostering productive connections with your internal colleagues is an essential part of almost every project.
As a business development and marketing leader, I recognize the deep value of building collaborative connections across my organization. Time and again, I’ve experienced the myriad benefits of partnerships that have evolved and strengthened over years. I’ve also seen how, because of the global pandemic, working cross-functionally has become increasingly challenging. Still, whether I’m collaborating remotely or in the office, I know there are fundamental tactics for growing partnerships I can always rely on—especially when forming internal cross-functional connections.
5 strategies for forming good partnerships
- Do your research. Try to learn about the colleague you’re meeting. Check in with others who’ve worked with them in the past, or simply take a look at their LinkedIn profile. You might be surprised to discover a connection, such as having a shared alma mater, the same former role, or similar interests. Being able to start your conversation referencing that commonality (“Jim told me you recently went to Ireland. I was just there last year. How did you like it?”) can go a long way to accelerating your connection. And remember, one connection you always share is the organization you work for and its culture and mission.
- Be intentional. Before meeting with your internal colleague, take a moment to prepare. Use this time to really consider everything you know about your colleague’s goals. Bring this understanding into the room. Over time, also consider what you’ve learned about their working preferences. For example, do they prefer long leisurely conversations or ones that are brief and to the point? Are they more likely to respond to follow-up texts versus emails? Integrate what you know into your interactions.
- Find common goals. During each meeting, express ongoing interest in learning what drives the colleague with whom you’re collaborating. Don’t take the partnership for granted just because you both work for the same organization. To find out more about your colleague and better understand their goals, ask open-ended questions such as:
• “Can you tell me more about your journey getting to this role?”
• “What are your business objectives and goals?
• “What are you hoping to achieve this year?”
Consider their responses as you work to align your plans and foster common ground. The fact is, you never know where asking open-ended questions will lead or how it might benefit everyone involved, both professionally and personally.
- Be present. When meeting—especially when meeting virtually—remain focused on the moment and minimize any surrounding noise. Be aware of how easy it is to get distracted by incoming emails, children, or pets. Simply being present demonstrates to your colleague that you care about this collaboration and are actively listening and engaged. This will encourage them to respond in kind.
- Restate it. The practice of restating is the cornerstone of productive conversation, especially early in a partnership when you are still getting a sense of each other’s communication styles. During each meeting, restating what you heard shows you are actively listening and that you value your colleague’s opinion and perspective. It also gives them the opportunity to clarify any ideas they feel are misunderstood. Most important, restating ensures alignment on strategies for moving forward and the responsibilities of all involved.
When it’s not working
Every so often you’ll find that, even though you’ve been intentional with your approach to establish a connection, the partnership is still just not working out. In these instances, I suggest you do one of the following:
- Recognizing the partnership will not work as you hoped, maintain your professional relationship but actively seek out others in the organization with whom to partner.
- Identify someone—a colleague, friend, or mentor—who can listen to your challenge, evaluate your situation, and give you advice that can help you take a different approach.
As you reflect on unproductive collaborations, keep in mind that successful professional connections take effort and persistence. Most of all, it takes time to establish trust. I’d caution you not to give up too easily—or too soon.
The key: deliver value to your colleague
If I had to boil down all the tips provided here into just 1 rule for establishing strong connections, it would be to always deliver value to your cross-functional partners. During each interaction, strive to show your colleague that your partnership benefits them. This can often be accomplished with small gestures. Helping your colleague make other professional connections, taking the responsibility to follow up on your last meeting, talking up their great ideas to leadership, or just being a good listener are all easy ways of providing something of worth to them. And never underestimate the importance of a simple “thank you.” Words matter, and expressing appreciation cultivates the kind of productive connection that will ultimately benefit you both.
Jenn Lalli has more than 15 years of combined sales and marketing leadership in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, and dental industries. As senior director of business development and marketing for Encompass, Jenn partners closely with clients to understand their needs and provides support and direction throughout the process. Jenn earned a BS in Business Administration from Villanova University and an MBA with a specialty in marketing from the University of Connecticut. You can contact Jenn via LinkedIn or at JLalli@encompasscnl.com.