Partnership: Moving from ME to WE

In most cases, managers and even executives don’t get to choose their partners. They have “partnerships” not because they want to, but because they are obligated by contracts or by the structure of their organization.

Here are things I hear from clients who struggle with partnerships:

  •  “I am dependent on this group (or partner) to do X, Y, and Z before I can complete this work.”
  • “This business partner is known to be difficult or challenging.”
  • “I need to work with all these different groups to get the product out the door.”

Do these seem familiar to you? If so, you might be feeling the pressure of partnership just like an organization I worked with about a year ago. They had good intentions and hired me to coach their product teams through an agile transformation.

They created collaborative working space and team members were excited. We got everyone out of their cubicles and started putting practices in place to get them delivering in frequent intervals.

However, these teams had huge dependencies on other teams throughout the organization. The teams wanted to work together, but organizational and leadership constraints made the partnerships tougher than necessary.

For example, two dependent teams worked in different buildings five blocks apart. To make the partnership successful, one team needed to move, but their leaders refused to budge. Instead, product owners had to attend 6-7 different prioritization sessions due to these “partners” optimizing their agile transformations for themselves rather than the whole of the product or organization.

On the flip side, leaders who share common goals for the good of the organization can usually find ways to build strong partnerships or turn adversaries into partners.

I am currently coaching in an organization that has discovered the value of strong collaborative partnerships. For years, they had been pointing fingers at each other—it’s the business’ fault, no its technology’s fault—instead of working together to resolve their problems.

How did they start to make the shift? All it took was two people to realize the value of “we” was way more powerful than the value of “me.”

They realized the organization would be better off if they worked together and not against each other. Once they began to build mutual respect and learned to appreciate what the other brought to the table, then they started working together to find solutions to problems. They consulted each other on decisions. They valued each other’s input, opinions and experience.

I know this sounds simple, but as adults we tend to struggle with partnership at work. Maybe it’s because the culture of the organization calls us to “take sides” or promotes competition. Perhaps it’s a matter of personal ambition or a lack of trust.

Are you guilty of not being a good partner or do you throw up roadblocks just because you can? Take a few moments and reflect. Ask yourself, “What kind of partner am I and what kind of partner do I want to be?”

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