• Sally Grisedale

Collaborate Better with Designed Alliances

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

Software development today is a collaborative process across a broad range of groups, that might include Data Science, User Research, Product Management, Engineering, User Research, UI Design, UX Design, Content Strategy, Product Marketing, Network Operations and Legal.

In addition to the requirement of organizational collaboration, the pressure to ‘move fast’ is always present. ‘Done is better than perfect,’ is the maxim made popular by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Businesses need to innovate faster in the market place in order to keep growing their market reach.

The tension between optimal collaboration and a need for speed creates an array of challenges for individuals, teams and especially their leaders.

  • When roles, ownership, and accountability are unclear, teams can become less efficient, less coordinated, and less supportive of one another.

  • Individuals may experience a lack of trust and accountability, feel greater conflict and stress when goals are unclear or change on a dime.

  • New leaders and leaders of teams that are ‘in service’ of other teams – large, influential, or revenue-driving teams – may not be at the table when critical decisions are made.

  • This can lead to the perpetuation of silos of domain expertise. The Arbinger Institutes “Leadership and Self Deception” book, has shown that silos lead to individuals feeling “self-justified for bad behavior, like exaggerating others peoples faults or inflating their own virtue.” This in turn can produce negative sentiment among teams:

  • User research takes too much time.

  • Designers work independently from engineering.

  • Engineers build UI’s for the designers to clean up.

Creating high-quality work under these conditions becomes very difficult. According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study ofleading corporations, 75% of cross functional teams are dysfunctional.

Take Steps to Avoid Collaborative Dysfunction

Without a doubt, the need for speed and cross-functional collaboration is challenging. Should you focus on building your team and reaching your goals? Or should you focus on building relationships with cross-functional partners in support of better collaboration?

These goals don’t need to be mutually exclusive. If you experience collaboration problems like the ones above in your own team, you may consider forming an alliance with your XFN partners and carefully craft your working relationship.

How to Begin Building an Alliance

By definition, an alliance is a union or association formed for mutual benefit between partners based on an affinity, typically of shared interests. Additionally, an alliance empowers each party to declare where their boundaries lie and how to work with them optimally. An alliance works best when you begin the process with a conversation and ask open-ended questions:

  • What challenges do you face with your team?

  • What currently works well for your team and communications?

  • What excites you and your team about the work?

  • How was the experience when our teams last worked together? Do you have suggestions for improvement?

  • What are the optimal conditions for our teams to work together effectively?

  • What would you like to know about my team and me?

  • How will we structure mutual accountability?

  • What is the best way for us to respond when a problem arises between our teams or us?

  • What is the best way for me to share difficult information with you?

  • Will you continue to look at how we work together and give me ongoing feedback?

No one likes to feel like an item on your ‘to do’ list. For this alliance conversation to work, you must listen without interruption, without jumping to conclusions, or problem-solving. Most importantly, be genuinely curious about the person and what they are saying. Avoid jumping in to fill an awkward silence; give the other person time to complete what they are thinking.

“No matter what we do on the outside, people respond to how we feel on the inside,” The Arbinger Institutes, “Leadership and Self Deception” book. Creating an open and collaborative conversation to launch an alliance will allow the best of both people’s “insides” to connect with the other.

The Power of Having a Designed Alliance

When we join a company we bring our skills, our expertise and our expectations of how things should work. In a fast-paced, collaborative environment, it can feel rough until we acclimatize to the culture and build relationships with other people on whom we can depend. The value of designing an alliance with other people is time well spent and will create results that reflect well on you over time.

  • People see that you value them for who they are, not what they can do for you

  • You earn the trust of others

  • Your positive behavior contributes to a better work environment

  • You can ask for support in times of need from your powerful alliances

  • You are fully productive and engaged with clarity about the work that is informed by the work of others

  • By championing others, your perceived value increases exponentially.

Your Homework

Try this experiment. Ask someone the three questions below, whether an employee, a peer, a cross-functional team member, your boss, a date, or a stranger in line at the airport:

  • What challenges are you facing?

  • What gets you (and your team) excited about what you do?

  • What do you truly want?

  • Then, take a step back and assess where you are in the conversation. Have you created a connection with this person? Do you understand them more fully than you did before? Did they gain insights into themselves and the way you communicate with them?

Congratulations, you’re on your way to greater success as an XFN leader!

Let me know how this helps you connect with key people in your work and home environment. Good luck!

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