When we talk about how people work in partnership with someone else it often refers to a type of relationship where two or more people are working together and cooperating towards a common goal. Or, partnership can simply mean a legal definition of a business where people share the profits as well as the liabilities. Calling something a partnership means that people have some formal type of relationship. But does that in fact make the relationship meaningful?
In any important work relationship, a meaningful partnership should be the goal. The descriptor “meaningful” is used intentionally. In common discourse, we might say that a person like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg led a meaningful life; that it’s time for a meaningful change; or that two people in conflict need to have a meaningful conversation. In these cases, the “meaningful” describes something notably above and beyond, fulfilling a higher purpose, and having considerable impact.
A meaningful partnership in the context of a work relationship is one in which both parties feel fully supported and are able to be successful. These are the partnerships that experience an elevated sense of cohesion, connection, cooperation, and collaboration so that the partners are fully accountable for the health and success of the relationship. Further, they routinely exchange their appreciation and give feedback that will help each partner to remain happy and fully effective.
The most important work partnerships are those between leaders and their team members. This is true for the frontline worker who reports to a team lead and the executive who reports to a president. No matter where one falls on an organizational chart or what the organization sets out to accomplish, the quality of this relationship between team members and leaders is critical to organizational success.
Yet, this relationship between employees and their leaders is unfortunately given little attention in many organizations. Every day, teams are formed, managers assigned, people’s roles are change, and little to no effort is put into ensuring that employees and their managers start out and continue in mutually supportive and successful working relationships. The result is that employees feel unsupported and often frustrated with their managers. In turn, managers who feel unsupported often become frustrated with their staff. This two-way street of disappointment fuels the “dreaded 4 Ds:” dissatisfaction, disengagement, despair and departure.
Given its importance, what can organizations do to create a state of meaningful partnership between managers and employees? Here are tips for integrating the three essential aspects of meaningful partnerships:
- Persistently improve empathy, respect and trust.
Empathy is a profound appreciation for the perspective of others and what’s important to them. Respect is when a person sees another as a valid and legitimate work partner who’s deserving of the rights that we expect ourselves. Trust implies high confidence in other people at work, knowing that they have your back as well and won’t speak disparagingly of you. To start to develop a meaningful partnership, first work on empathy, respect and trust.
- Emphasize alignment.
Once the foundations of empathy, respect and trust are in place, leaders and their teams can work to ensure that all are on the same page. Alignment is insured when leaders and teams are moving in the same direction toward a common purpose. It includes shared views on goals, values, methods and use of resources.
- Develop a Workplace Covenant.
The process of engaging leaders and their teams in a dialogue about mutual expectations and obligations can create improved levels of empathy, respect, trust and alignment. Leaders and their teams must discuss explicitly what they expect from one another. Similarly, they must be explicit in their obligations towards one another. In essence, they create a “Workplace Covenant” of commitments that have obligatory weight to one’s work partners. The basis of this exchange is to clarify: “What do you need from me/us to help you feel supported and to be successful.” Addressing this question directly and ensuring partners are able to engage in a results-oriented dialogue with each other will lead to a meaningful partnership.
Engaging these three approaches can help to create that magical state of meaningful partnership in which a leader and the team fully work together as equals, feel mutually supported and all are accountable for the success of the others.
Written by Timothy M. Franz and Seth R. Silver.
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