Who’s in Your Corner? Building powerful internal relationships

Published On
Jun 15, 2022

Last month, I explored why having a strong professional network is vital to business success. The primary focus was on building relationships and connections with people outside your company. I shared a three-step process for growing your network. Of course, your internal network is just as important as the external one.

You and a handful of others make up your company team. Depending on where you fall in the company structure, these may be your co-workers, direct reports or supervisors. Each one can play a vital role in your professional success.

While the methods we use to build internal relationships are similar to those we use for external relationships, we aren’t necessarily seeking to open doors or find new opportunities. Within company walls, we tend to build a network to help us enact change, roll out new ideas or get promotions. Relationships up, down and across our organization fall into six categories.

Mentor/Sponsor: A mentor/sponsor is your biggest advocate. This person wants you to succeed. They see what you are capable of and the value you offer. A mentor/sponsor is the person willing to go out on a limb for you and use their reputation to put in a good word or support your ideas. They are your best advocate, even when you aren’t in the room.

Ally/Supporter: Your allies and supporters are invested in your success, but are not actively finding ways to help you. They will stand shoulder to shoulder and support you when you’re in the same room, but aren’t promoting you once you leave. They want you to succeed, but it is not their first priority.

Neutral: These individuals have no opinion about you either way. They are neither helping nor hindering you or your cause. You might describe them as on the fence. With some effort and encouragement, you might be able to convert them to a supporter.

Antagonist: Antagonists are those who don’t like you much, but they aren’t going out of their way to sabotage you. Maybe they feel you have everything handed to you because you are the son or daughter of the boss. Perhaps they don’t know you well and have negative opinions based on what others have said about you. Don’t expect them to rally behind you, but at the same time, don’t be concerned about them stabbing you in the back.

Foil/Nemesis: The opposite of the mentor/sponsor, your nemesis actively seeks to sabotage you. They are willing to risk their own reputation to bring you down. They could be described as having a chip on their shoulder because they see you as a threat. Maybe there is bad blood between the two of you from something that happened in the past. Regardless of the reason, these individuals will be the anchors holding your success back.

Not on their radar: More likely to be found in a larger organization, you aren’t on these individuals’ radars, but would like to be. Maybe it’s an executive who doesn’t know you, or someone you aren’t important to. Perhaps they haven’t noticed you yet. Likely all you need is an introduction, or to speak up and share an idea in a team meeting. You will have to take some initiative to get noticed.

You will likely encounter people who fall into each relationship category. A strong internal professional network would include several people above the neutral category, mainly allies/supporters, and a few strong relationships with mentors/sponsors.

It takes being deliberate, genuine, professional and persistent to build your internal and external networks. A great place to start is to list each relationship category across the top of a piece of paper. Next, list each person in the company below the category they fall in for you. You are off to a good start if you have more in neutral and above. If you have a lot of people in the neutral category and below, you have some work to do.

As we navigate our company’s internal waters and office politics, having the right people in our corner can help us succeed. Try to surround yourself with the individuals who can help you get the experience necessary. Regardless of the strength of your current network, it can always be stronger. Put forth the effort to build, strengthen and nurture these relationships. You’ll never know when you’ll need to lean on someone in your corner.

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