It was all I could do to tighten my face and fight back a smile. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. This guy had legitimate gripes and was looking for support. But the whole situation struck me as rather ironic. I wanted to tell him how many times I had sat in meetings listening to front line supervisors make the same complaints about their line workers; he sounded just like them, acting as though he had full responsibility for the work.
How we had gotten to the point where core employees, like this line worker, owned their productivity was fairly simple: Leaders made a conscious decision to see the workforce as thousands of essential partners, and treated them that way. As a result, most members of this particular team understood what their contribution meant to the success of the business. Team members also received a small, but significant, share of the gains that resulted from improved results. In a year, they had already boosted their productivity by nearly 30%, but they had barely scratched the surface of what was possible, and they knew it. That’s why some team members, like this one, weren’t happy with those that still dragged themselves into work each day as if nothing had changed. Despite the resistance from some, most employees were happy with the new relationship and pitched in to keep the momentum going.
There’s nothing sacrosanct about this situation. Partnering relationships can be developed most anywhere and with most any group or individual with whom there is a common stake. In a healthcare organization, I facilitated a meeting where nurses and contracted doctors gathered to discuss how to better serve patients. This may not seem like a big deal, but doctors were in short supply in the community, so facility doctors had been treated almost like deity. Everything in this place seemed to revolve around pleasing them instead of patients with doctors barking out orders and nurses jumping to respond. Not surprisingly, both doctors and nurses were finding mutual respect hard to muster, and patients were getting the brunt of it.
In this meeting, things were different. The organization was learning about how to partner. Nurses and doctors were joining forces as professionals equally dedicated to establishing a team that could create the best patient experience possible. After years of monocratic rule, not every doctor was quick to give up the throne. And some nurses had a hard time breaking free of their subservient responses. But by partnering on common overarching purposes, a critical mass of doctors and nurses grouped together to refocus on improving the patient experience.
In these examples, partnering changed the relationships between people and shifted their focus away from individual daily tasks that were sometimes at odds. Casting a wider net to capture common goals allowed them to agree on outcomes that served them both. Their new perspectives allowed them to work collaboratively for better results for themselves and their customers.
In spite of these successes, it would be naïve to think that successful partnering could suddenly eliminate all the tough problems inherent in any complex relationship. The partnering experiences described here should make that pretty clear. But when you have conversations like the one I had with the line worker, experience union leaders talking about ways to reduce costs, or see people previously at odds suddenly collaborating, it should be apparent that something has changed—that true partnering is happening. Despite the resistance inevitably present in every system, partnering relationships can be developed creating co-ownership for better outcomes.
Trying it on for fit: To establish an effective partnership, you must understand your potential partner’s situation. So, first, learn about what they do, what’s important to them, and what they would like to accomplish. You may need to spend some time listening to each other to learn what you have in common. Looking at ways to work together for the success of the whole, or those served by the group or organization, often illuminates common goals.
Second, communicate with no hidden agendas. Build a relationship of trust committing to share learning and information to ensure mutual success.
Third, state your partnering proposal allowing yourself to be flexible in negotiating agreements. Verbally express personal commitments for achieving results.
Fourth, jointly identify everything that could get in the way of partnering success. Directly confront the issues taking responsibility for the past and committing to resolving them. Collaborate on solutions and implement them together.
Fifth, monitor and frequently discuss progress toward partnering goals making course corrections, where necessary.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!