Strong Relationships Drive Success

Why You Should Map Your Work Relationships

The strength of your relationships determines your chances of success –mapping your relationships is crucial to understand which are strong, which are weak and what to do about it.

This exercise is perfect when kicking off a new team, at the beginning of a new project, when you are feeling stuck in your organization or team, or when starting a new job/ role. Mapping your relationships will help you identify your support network as well as the gaps you must fill.

The Mapping Your Relationships exercise is an effective way to acknowledge and assess existing relationships –– both professional and personal.

Use this tool to categorize your relationships by type and strength: unbreakable, strong, weak, and broken. Understand what drives each category and what you need to do.

How to Map Your Work Relationships

My first experience with this tool was when I attended a three-month Change Leadership Program at Stanford’s d.school over five years ago. It was originally designed by SY Partners SF. I’ve adopted it as a critical tool for team development and personal growth workshops.

Map your relationships canvas

    • Print a copy of the Map Your Relationships canvas (see image above).
    • On a piece of paper, list all the people that play an essential role in your life (I recommend doing one for personal purposes and another for professional ones, though some people might be included on both).
    • Write all the names around the “Me” circle (that’s you).
    • Now draw a line to connect each name to you. Choose a specific type of line depending on the strength of the relationship according to the references (i.e.: ‘unbreakable’ use three lines, for “weak’ use a dashed line).
    • Now reflect on all the relationships, what’s the story? What have you uncovered? Why are some ‘links’ broken or weak?
    • Categorize your relationships into two groups: those that matter and those that don’t. This is not about who you like or not, but who are critical to helping you (or not) achieve your goals.
    • Reflect on the strength of all the relationships that are critical to your success (emotional, functional, networking, etc.). How can you leverage unbreakable relationships? Why are some relationships broken or weak? What can you do about it?

It’s OK to accept that some relationships will be weak or broken forever. But don’t give up on those that do matter without trying first.

Try another round, this time focus on your personal relationships. Rinse and repeat.

How to Facilitate the Map Your Relationships Canvas with Your Team

First, ask everyone to do the exercise individually focusing on the team in particular.

Second, group people in duos (you can do this virtually using Zoom break out rooms). Have each person provide their perspective on the strength of that particular relationship and what’s driving. Provide each person with 3 minutes to present their POV; the other part should just listen.

Once both members have finished, let them ask clarifying questions; they should focus on understanding the other person’s perspective, not to judge or fight back.

Now, allow some time for them to brainstorm together what they can do to continue having a strong relationship, to improve a weak/ broken relationship.

Continue rotating all members until everyone has discuss the strength of their relationships with each other.

Ideally, have more than one coach facilitating this session. Encourage participants to invite a coach to their breakout room when:

  • They are afraid to speak up
  • The conversation gets stuck
  • The tensions are getting heated

Note: the purpose of this exercise is not just to fix broken or weak relationships. A strong relationship could be improved, for example. Or unbreakable relationships should be challenges to ensure that it doesn’t promote myopia or groupthink.

When you gain clarity, everything feels easier.

This exercise is powerful. Be honest with yourself. Having a clear assessment of your relationships provides clarity and will help you move into action.

Additional Reading

Why Your Success Depends on the Strengths of Your Relationships