The dying art of offline relationship building (Why I’m playing golf today)

Matt Heinz

Guest Commentary: I have a ton of work to do today. But I’m spending most of my day on the golf course instead.

Today is the annual Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) golf tournament, and it’s an all-day affair. Pitch and putt contest in the morning, mid-day round of 18 holes, late afternoon meal and awards ceremony. But the length of the event, that’s part of its value.

In an age when we count our friends via Facebook and center our professional network on LinkedIn, there’s something special about spending a few hours away from the computer and office with people who matter to your job, your business or your career.

Where else do you get four hours alone with a partner, a colleague, or a sales prospect? When else can you literally run out of work things to talk about and really get to know the other person (or people) better?

Photo via Flickr

Business still works this way, of course. I’m talking about the relationship. Trust. It’s hard to build deep relationships and trust by sharing links on Twitter. But if someone gets to know me, who I really am, there’s a bond created. We share something together: live, offline, in real-time.

Past generations got this. Our parents did business this way. Entire books have been written about how to do it.

And golf is just one way to do it. Tennis. Long runs. Bridge. Pick your fancy. They all work.

Too often today, we don’t take the time to make these investments. We’re busy, focused on a thousand things at once. Our social networks are faster, more efficient, more organized.

They’re also more shallow. Undifferentiated. The relationships we have online are too often a commodity.

Spending a day on a golf course with 150 business leaders isn’t my most efficient marketing channel. But I know I’ll be spending time with people who also value not just a day in the sun, but time with colleagues and peers who equally value the slow art of relationship-building.

Instead of starting with business, we’ll start with putting. Instead of getting right to what I do for a living, I get to let others make fun of my futility in the sand trap.

For days and weeks after, I’ll have stories to share, inside jokes to reiterate, awful golf shots to reminisce about. These are natural reasons to stay in touch, and transition to business when the time is right.

We don’t value the time, quality, input, process and results that come from this kind of networking and relationship-building. But before the Internet, before our social networks, before our hyper-busy lives, this is how people did business. Not just with golf, but with time.

I’m not going to stop organizing my network online. I’m not going to stop using technology to meet people and nurture relationships.

But today, we’re playing golf.

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. He’s playing as part of the GeekWire foursome at the WTIA tourney today. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog.

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    Matt — it was great playing with you today (truly, we had a blast, and I now know you much better than I ever would have after chatting with you at 5-10 happy hour mixers).  Plus, I know that you and I were definitely the rickety wheels on the GeekWire Golf Team ;-)

    John — thanks for inviting me to play with the foursome — I had a blast, even with the rain and chill — really really a good time (was thinking on the way home that maybe I should start playing more regularly again…)

    • johnhcook

      Thanks Dave, Mike and Matt. It was a great day on the links. Really enjoyed it. Glad I didn’t kill that goose on hole 17. :)

      Golf is typically an individual game. But, in a scramble, it is a team effort. Sometimes you need a teammate to carry you forward and today everyone pitched in at different times — whether a long putt, a short chip or a big drive.

      Certainly a good startup lesson.

  • Christopher Griffin

    Couldn’t agree more — I hastily assembled an ad hoc team for Microsoft at yesterday’s event (thx again Todd for calling up Chris J.!) and it was a fantastic day. I was able to reconnect and have long, interesting (to me), meaningful conversations with a bunch of people I’d only met in passing at various “traditional” tech events. I also had long, interesting, meaningful conversations with several people with whom I’d never crossed paths. Golf specifically is often the whipping boy for people who mock “old school” networking, but I’m finding a surprising number of tech people who love to play. For the past two years I’ve hosted a little pitch & putt tourney during SXSW; I think it’s time we kick something off in Seattle. Look for an STS email soon…. Huge thanks to WTIA and all the other sponsors for a great event!

  • Susan Sigl

    Thanks Guys.  WTIA loved it too if we do say so ourselves.  Will be keeping Golf 17 on the docket for 2012 and will be looking forward to your return. 

  • Lew McMurran

    John, thanks for a great post.  Frankly, it is a good reminder to me about why we do these events.  Instead of worrying about how crappy my game is, realizing that I am connecting with new people and reconnecting with colleagues is what is important.

    Based on the previous comments, others were able to do the same.  Sorry we couldn’t keep the rain away but at least the towels, jackets and on course refreshments made it bearable…

  • Guest

     Same here, I quite facebook and all other networking sites.