Creating effective partnerships in the workplace

We look at what makes workplace partnerships truly effective, and the mindset shifts you need to achieve them.

Can you imagine what it would be like working in a team, or a department, or a whole organisation, where this definition of partnership formed one of the core values, and where everybody behaved in accordance with these principles?

You could come to work knowing that whatever you did, your colleagues would have your back – they’d be looking out for you and ensuring you were successful in your work. And they’d be doing this secure in the knowledge that they likewise were safe; no one would be waiting for them to make a mistake and finger-pointing when they did.

All of you would be looking to support each other and making sure everyone succeeded. It really is possible to have a workplace like this – if you as the leader have this as your vision and set up workplace conditions so that that’s the favoured behaviour.

Unfortunately, they mostly aren’t set up this way – people are managed as individuals, with individual targets, and placed in competition with each other. But that’s because there’s a knee-jerk assumption that organisations have to look like that. They don’t, and you are free to set your expectations differently, supported by reward systems based not on the individual, but on teams working in partnership together.

All you have to do is consciously guide your organisation that way, involve your team in inventing creative ways to work together and reward themselves, and build reward and remuneration structures that support working in partnership, not against each other. It’s your organisation, and you’re its leader – what would you like it to look like?

How do you apply this mindset to your leadership?

  1. Focus on others and what you can do for them, ahead of what they can do for you. For most people, this is not an instinctive mindset, so you will need to make a conscious choice to do this.
  2. Trust that if you discipline yourself to stay in this mindset, relationships will work better, and ultimately you and your team or organisation will reap the rewards. It’s counter-intuitive – but it works.
  3. Set targets and reward achievement at the team level as far as possible. Even in a system already based on the individual, with a bit of creativity you can add team targets and rewards – if you’re committed to working this way.
  4. Train yourself to be supportive or generous not in order to get any specific outcome, but for its own sake. Role model this behaviour and insist that others behave this way too.
  5. Make it clear to your team that self-seeking behaviour will not be supported or rewarded. If any member of your team is struggling, be the first to offer support and help, and insist others do likewise.
  6. Failure of one member of the team is a team failure – teach team members to work for the success of everyone in the team.

This article was adapted from a chapter in Kate Mercer’s book, A Buzz in the Building.

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