Networking

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Running a non-profit agency dedicated to improving the quality of life in the communities we serve is a pretty tall order. In many ways, the order is so tall that it requires the cooperation and enthusiasm of those outside of my traditional sphere of influence (those who receive a paycheck with my signature on it). I think someone, somewhere decided the best way to influence those outside their sphere was to “network.” That being said, I am what you might call a mediocre networker. I kind of run hot or cold depending on the weather, type of snacks being served, alignment of the moon and various other excuses I come up with to make up for my inability to be consistently charming and influential. I figure my general inadequacies are not unique to me, so that is why somebody else came up with the idea of adding an activity to the “networking” process.

I have never been comfortable with the notion that “networking” works better when there is an activity involved. I thought the whole idea of “networking” was to get people to a place where rapport can be nurtured and, as a result, relationships are built and business gets done. In my opinion, the act of “networking” requires a controlled environment where all of the networkers involved feel comfortable, relaxed and not burdened with the pressure that certain activities tend to cause. With this being said, if an activity is going to get introduced into the “networking” process, it needs to be one that provides each networker an equal chance at being comfortable. In addition, the activity needs to limit the chance of one-upmanship due to one of the networkers having innate athletic ability or a compulsion to practice the activity at nauseam. I don’t know who suggested golf would be a good networking activity but whoever it was has never seen my back swing. I figure it was some corporate guy sitting in a corner office that came up with the idea that the perfect networking group size should be called a foursome. His thought probably was that this foursome would include one par golfer, his brother-in-law, a clergyman and some guy the par golfer is trying to sell 14 truckloads of disc brake pads to.

The golf “networking” begins with the par golfer asking everyone if they mind playing from the whites since his new range finder is only good from 700 yards. The brother-in-law, who is on his third Bloody Mary, then asks the clergyman if clubhouse rules require those funny-looking collared shirts, and the soon-to-be disc brake King of Bushwood is trying to make his rental bag stand up on the one remaining unbroken extension leg.

Much to the brother-in-law’s disgust, etiquette called for the clergyman to lead off and his drive suggested he spends quite a bit more time on the back nine than in the confessional booth.

The brother-in-law then hitches up his cargo shorts and knocks one within 100 yards.

The par golfer offers the tee box to the future auto parts store owner and mentions off-handedly how he too once played in tennis shoes when he was four.

Somewhere around the 15th hole, the par golfer feels the urge to do a hole-by-hole overview of the Duke of disc brakes performance. He starts with the “hit house” on three, then progresses to the walking seniors scattered on six followed by the maimed beaver at the water hole on nine.

I believe it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that the networking activity is perhaps the single most important factor in determining the outcome of the “networking” session.

After a great deal of thought and even greater number of golf games, I believe I have come up with truly the best networking activity to level the playing field for all involved.

It’s the Parker Brothers “Barrel of Monkeys” game. The Barrel of Monkeys game requires minimal skill, and to my understanding does not require any innate athletic ability or habit-forming practice sessions.

The way I see the Barrel of Monkeys “networking” activity going down is sort of like this …

The guy in the middle office next to the restroom calls the guy from Purchasing and says meet me and a potential client in the break room at 3 p.m. The potential client shows up at 2:30 p.m. and is met in the lobby by a courteous host who says, “Can I get you a water or something before the big game?” The client relaxes and puts his feet up on the credenza and says, “No thank you Molly, I’ll just sit here and chill till’ the boys show up.” There is no talk of groups in front, greens fees, dress codes or handicaps … it’s just the boys and the barrel.

The break room is approximately 12×9 feet and is painted putty tan, which the manager’s wife said helps with digestion. The fluorescent fixture buzzes with that same sound that causes the maintenance man to mumble something about a bad ballast before going on his two-week family vacation to Legoland.

The barrel sits in the middle of the Formica table next to a half empty bottle of Heinz ketchup and a smattering of Splenda packets. It sits unassuming … patient … waiting.

The guy from Purchasing twists the plastic container and spills the monkeys unceremoniously across the table. Their pretzel shaped arms glisten in the dim light of the fluttering fluorescent light above the heads of the threesome … it’s activity time.

With no pretense, the three colleagues begin to sort the monkeys by color, occasionally chuckling as legs tangle in arms and vice versa … the rapport process begins.

The client says, “Alright, who’s gonna start?” And in unison, the other two say, “It’s your turn – we started last week.”

Between a mouthful of Cheez-its and a missed rim shot with a Diet Coke can off of the garbage container, the Purchasing guy pulls off an amazing four-armed loop with his blue primates! Congratulations are then shared around the table enthusiastically … rapport builds.

The client high fives the Purchasing guy and the rapport increases to a frenzy. Ironically, the hanging monkeys remind one of them of the time when his nephew fell from a tree house only to be caught by that licorice-eating neighbor kid who was suspected of chucking a rock through the library window.

This type of light-hearted banter goes back and forth before finally evolving into the client stating that his company was looking for someone to provide a quote on 150 cases of Jimmy Hoffa bobblehead dolls to be used on the midway of a traveling carnival. The Purchasing guy looks at the sales guy who hands the client another monkey and says, “Do I got a deal for you.”