Every leader has been involved in spearheading a strategic initiative that has gotten off track. When this has happened to you, were you able to identify the cause of the setback and quickly get your team back on track?
Perhaps there was some misalignment about expectations. Or maybe team members weren’t fully supporting each other. Perhaps conflict had emerged around a next step. Or there were natural tensions occurring between personalities or functional areas of your organization. All of these are common issues that arise among teams, and the good news is that they can be mitigated and overcome quickly with a designed alliance.
Teams operating without a co-designed alliance often struggle with a lack of clarity about how to engage with each other, confusion about unwritten rules of engagement, and how to skillfully handle tension and conflict that inevitability emerges. These struggles get in the way of a team’s ability to perform at their best and are preventable.
A designed alliance is a thoughtfully designed container in which a team operates. It establishes trust and alignment, sets expectations, and lays out some ground rules – to which everyone agrees and has input.
The purpose of designing an alliance is to encourage teammates to consciously choose who they want to “be” as a team while “doing” all the required tasks of the team – and places equal weight on both relationships and tasks. Being intentional about designing an alliance becomes a catalyst for building and strengthening organizational culture.
Designing an alliance helps everyone know how to work most productively together. An effective alliance will cultivate more cohesive teamwork and starts with a balanced and inclusive conversation around four foundational questions:
- What is the culture/atmosphere we want to create to ensure we achieve expected outcomes?
- How do we want to interact with each other when things get difficult?
- What will help us excel together and collectively have a positive impact on our organization?
- What are we most committed to?
This framework for designing an alliance is helpful in multiple situations including when you’re taking on a new team leadership role and when you’re leading a cross-functional team on an initiative that has organization-wide impact. It can also be highly beneficial when there has been significant change within your team or initiative.
If your organization has defined its core values, be sure to incorporate them into your alliance. If it hasn’t yet, designing an alliance is a great springboard for establishing a handful of core values and the expected behaviors that are associated with those values.
Depending on the specific needs of your team, you may want to establish some agreements around these questions as the process of further defining and embodying your designed alliance matures:
- What do we need to establish trust?
- What gets in the way of establishing trust?
- What do we need to express our opinions and concerns safely and confidently?
- How will we know when we are withholding or stonewalling?
- What can we count on from each other while working together?
- How do we agree to make decisions?
- How will we hold each other accountable?
After your team has co-designed its alliance, it’s critical to revisit it periodically to ensure it continues to be useful and valuable. Here are five ways to ensure your alliance is regularly utilized:
- Keep it visible.
- Start a meeting with one of the questions and encourage dialogue that will support your meeting objectives.
- Invite each team member to champion a specific aspect of the alliance.
- End a meeting by asking your team to describe the element of your alliance that was most evident and what element might have been helpful if it was more apparent.
- Share stories that describe when your alliance has felt most alive and beneficial.
It’s important to remember that designed alliances are intended to be dynamic and should change over time. Consider these questions as you revisit your alliance periodically to ensure it continues to serve the needs of your team:
- How are we experiencing what’s reflected in this alliance?
- What are we doing well?
- Where do we need to focus more attention?
- How will we know we’re more actively living this alliance? What will we see? What will we feel?
- Is there anything we need to add, delete, or edit to better serve our team going forward?
In the coming weeks, I encourage you to look for an opportunity to design an alliance with your team and notice the impact that has on you, your team, and your team’s ability to achieve expected outcomes.
Emily Rogers, Founder & CEO of Emily Rogers Consulting + Coaching, is an executive coach, team coach, and keynote speaker. She strategically advises and supports individuals and organizations in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at emilyrogers.com.