Developing and maintaining professional relationships in project management is difficult. You work closely with a project team for a matter of weeks or months. You deliver the project. Soon after, you are busy working on another project.
If you’ve ever faced a difficult career situation, you understand the power of strong business relationships. Whether you are seeking a new job opportunity or simply advice on how to handle a problem, your network can help. It should go without saying that networking is a two-way street: both parties help each other out.
Why Project Managers Need Strong Internal Networks
Building an internal network at your own organization is a key skill for project managers. Unlike professionals in non-project roles, project managers regularly work with people across the organization. One project will call for close collaboration with the finance department. Your next effort may focus on marketing. Bringing these projects to a successful conclusion requires a strong internal network.
Scan For Network Building Opportunities
Opportunities to build your internal relationships are all around you. You simply need a new perspective to identify these situations. Here are four ways where you can build your internal network.
- Attend Office Parties
Most offices have at least a few parties a year: push yourself to attend these events. If you’re uncomfortable mixing with strangers, set yourself a simple goal. For example, “I will not leave this event until I talk to two new people.”
- Participate in Office Charity Events
Many companies I’ve worked with regularly have charity events. This can take the form of volunteering at local non-profit organizations or participating in fund-raisers. I recommend seeking the out-of-office volunteer opportunities. At one large bank, the annual volunteer day brought together technology professionals, private bankers, executives and retail bankers –a rare combination of staff to meet from different departments.
- Organize An Office Lunch
What if your company doesn’t have parties or volunteer events? Don’t give up! It’s time to don the organizer’s hat. Serving as the organizer for an event puts you at the centre of action.
- Read Promotion Emails Carefully
In large organizations, executive and management promotions are often announced by email. These notes are full of gems. You can learn about an executive’s prior experience and education. Sometimes, you can learn about the new person’s vision for project management. Take the time to read the notice and send a short note of congratulations (it’s easy and very few people do it).
Build Your Internal Network in 6 Steps
Your ability to plan and organize work will make it easy to develop a strong internal network. Follow this six step process to build and sustain your internal network. In a matter of weeks, your network will rapidly expand.
Extroverted and highly social professionals may resist following a systematic approach to building an internal network. Unless you take a systematic approach, you are likely to focus on your existing relationships. Exclusively focusing on your existing relationship is unlikely to yield new information or insights.
How well do you understand your organization? If your company has more than one office, have you visited any of the other locations? If you struggle to answer these questions, don’t worry. It’s easy to fall into a routine of interacting with the same people. Before you can strengthen your network, you need to understand the organization.
Here is a simplified organization chart based on a large bank.
- Retail Banking
- Investment Banking
- Private Client Group
- Corporate Areas (Legal Department, Marketing etc.)
The map you make of your organization should be comparably simple: think of a list with no more than a dozen entries. If your company doesn’t provide an organization chart, here’s what you can do.
Look up the CEO or President of the organization. Make a list of all the executives or managers that report to that person. Each of the CEO’s direct reports generally manages a major part of the company. That quick exercise gives you a map of your organization that you can use to build your network.
Now that you understand your organization, it’s time to look at your network. I recommend making a list in Microsoft Excel with two columns. Column A is the person’s name and Column B is the person’s division.
With a few minutes of effort, you start to notice patterns and gaps. For example, if you are based at a large bank, you may notice that you don’t know anyone in the investment banking group. That suggests an opportunity for you to build your network.
- LinkedIn Tip: Use LinkedIn.com to search for other project management professionals. Large corporations sometimes have multiple project management organizations (PMOs) – you may not be aware of all of them. On LinkedIn, run a search for your organization’s name and “PMP” or “project manager” on LinkedIn to discover your potential colleague.
For the next four weeks, you will be seeking out people across the organization. In my experience, the easiest way to get started is to meet one person per week. For example, email one person in the private client group area and propose going for coffee.
Not sure what to do or say during the coffee meeting? It is easy – simple focus on your new colleague. Most people I meet are happy to share stories about what they’re working on and how they got started in the organization. Listen actively for ways you can help the person.
Here are four ways you can help someone in your internal network as a project manager:
- Make an introductionIntroduce them to somebody in your network who can help them with a problem or a new perspective.
- Provide encouragementOn occasion, people simply need encouragement to work through a tough challenge: offer some kind words or perspective. It can make all the difference to helping someone get through a challenging day.
- Send helpful informationHave you recently taken a great training course? Or read an important business book? Now is the time to share those insights immediately or follow-up with a short email.
- Offer your expertise, when appropriateFor example, if your new friend is struggling with Microsoft Excel, offer to train them on your favourite productivity techniques. Improving my Excel experience has saved me hundreds of hours over the years.
The people you met through your past projects are an important component of your network, Unfortunately, it is easy to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap. Happily, you can easily break free of this trap.
To revive professional relationships, follow this process:
- Make a list of the people (with phone number and email address) of the ten to twenty people you have worked with on projects in the past year.
- Write a short email to each of the people to reconnect with them.
Tip: focus 80% of the email on them and only 20% on yourself for the best results
- If somebody has left your company, search for them on LinkedIn and/or ask a colleague about them. Few people take the effort to stay in touch with staff once they leave a company – taking this effort will make you memorable.
Over the course of time, memory fades. In order to stay top of mind, I recommend contacting everyone in your network every three to four months.
You can set an automatic reminder using Google Calendar, Outlook, Remember the Milk or whichever task management system you use.
Tip: make it easy to stay in touch by writing a task reminder as follows – “Stay in touch with John.Smith@company.com.”
Every week, schedule at least 30 minutes to work on your internal network. You can send a few emails, go out for lunch or visit a colleague on a different floor of your building.
For the best results, I recommend scheduling networking activity as a recurring activity on your calendar.
Time To Act
This week, contact somebody new at your organization and get to know them over coffee or tea. Share your experience in the comments.
photo credit: CC Chapman