What we pay attention to matters. If we monitor finances, productivity and service, those become the things we focus on. We begin creating ways to receive feedback on how well we are doing in those areas, which is essential for managing profitability and effectiveness. Rarely, though, will you find relationships among an organization’s priorities for self-assessment. Why do we pretend that relationships don’t matter to the bottom line? We are skilled at measurements of costs and productivity with regard to profits. But reliable, go-to strategies for measuring the quality of our relationships and their impact on organizational efficiency aren’t widely known.

What nature teaches us about relationships

Nature is designed as an interdependent system. All plants and species depend on each other in a variety of ways. There are relationships between plants and species, as well as time, the environment and context. All these relationships affect how the ecosystem operates now and how it evolves over time. In nature, relationships undoubtedly matter to the interdependent system. They help us understand how the system works together, thrives and adapts.

Similarly, our organizations are interconnected systems built on relationships. When our world became more connected through technology, mass media and global economics, we manifested a networked, interdependent world. Many businesses are trying to increase their organizations’ capacity to adapt to changes in the marketplace and the external environment (social, emotional, cultural, political, etc.). This reflects an intuitive understanding that relationships in an interdependent and networked world are an important business strategy. We are connected, and the quality of those connections matter to our organization’s success. Without that understanding, we ignore feedback and information that helps us adapt to thrive.

Looking through a lens of relationship or separation

Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants (2013), talks about how her native upbringing caused her to ask different questions and observe things in nature. Her indigenous perspective invited her to see plants in relationship to where they grew, what grew together and why this combination of plants was beautiful. When she was earning her doctorate in biology, however, she was taught to only look at the plant she was studying. She analyzed the characteristics of the plant by itself – cut off from context and without consideration of its relationship to other plants and its environment.

This is the essential difference between seeing things through a lens of relationship or separation. When we see our connections, our relatedness and our context, we look for patterns of integration, and we see the value of relationships to understanding the whole ecosystem. When we see things through a lens of separation, we focus on the individual, or the parts or the activity, without seeing how they impact the whole system. We must strive to understand and value our interconnectedness by cultivating, strengthening and appreciating our relationships. Only then will we will be unable to achieve a sustainable, thriving organization now and in the future.

Valuing the contributions of relationships to create change

Here are a few ways our organizations would change if we understood that relationships mattered to the bottom line:

  • We would focus on relationship competence as well as job-specific competence in staff.
  • We would add a relationship component to our performance reviews to assess our employees, managers and leaders’ abilities to initiate, build and restore trusting relationships with each other.
  • We would see transparency in our decision making and actions as an essential way to increase trust in our relationships.
  • We would redesign processes and expectations to reflect the value and critical contribution that our relationships bring to our organization.
  • We wouldn’t lie to each other because we would understand how it diminishes the quality of relationships over time.
  • We would hire people who have a proven ability to honor relationships and integrate this into their daily work.
  • We would develop measures (just like budgets) that provide feedback to the organization on the quality of relationships within teams, departments, partnerships and the organization.

These are just a few things that would change if we understood the powerful impact that relationships have on our bottom line, our society, our communities, our neighborhoods and our families.