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Why You Need Allies at Work

Tips About How to Develop Alliances

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Coworkers discussing project in startup office
Thomas Barwick/ Stone/ Getty Images

Why do you work? You work for money and benefits, of course. But, once you are making an adequate living and your basic needs are met, most people work for other reasons, too.

Surveys of employed people demonstrate that people want challenge in their work. They want appreciation from people they hold in esteem. They want the boss to notice when they do more than is expected. But, most of all, people want to accomplish their own personal work mission.

Whether that mission is to transform your organization's approach to quality or to introduce a performance management system that will help you develop a superior workforce, you need allies at work. No matter how important, reasonable or potentially helpful your mission is, you are unlikely to accomplish it without help. And, that's why you need alliances at work.

An ally is an associate who provides assistance and often, friendship. Your allies are likely to support your views and causes. They help solve problems, provide advice, act as a sounding board when you need a listening ear and offer a different perspective so you can view your organization more broadly.

Alliances can operate for good and they can also be conducted for less than positive reasons. In providing this information, I am making the assumption that you have the best interests of your organization and coworkers at heart. With this in mind, here are ten tips that will help you develop work alliances that will help you accomplish your work mission.

  • Effective communication forms the foundation for a positive work alliance. You need to be able to tell your potential ally what you need and listen deeply to what they need. Open lines of communication keep information, opinions and support flowing. Put yourself in your ally’s shoes and respect their point of view that may be different from your own.

  • Treat your allies as equals. No matter their position within your organization, all people are equal; they just have different jobs. Believe this. Act as if you believe this every single day. You will attract strong and successful alliances.

  • Exhibit total professionalism. Never participate in gossip or in discussing the business of coworkers behind their backs. People will trust you and know that what they tell you is safe in your hands. Alliances only work when trust is present.

  • Spend time with your allies. Be available to listen, to strategize and to occasionally eat lunch together. Make sure you are not forming an exclusive club that the rest of your organization will fear and resent. But, you must take the time to develop strong relationships with your allies.

  • When working on a project together, always put forth your best efforts. Be the person who is willing to do extra to strengthen the collaboration and the outcome or product. Produce work that allies are proud to support.

  • Choose your battles wisely. A colleague gave in to another coworker recently on a staffing decision. When I inquired why he let the other person’s opinion prevail, he responded that he needed the colleague’s support on much more important issues.

    Give in on the little decisions, or the decisions that appear to be much more important to the coworker. You’ll more easily gain support for the decisions that are important to you.

  • Keep your promises. If you say you will do something, do it. People need to depend upon you and the deadlines to which you commit. Again, it is a matter of developing trust.

  • Resolve any conflicts or disputes at your earliest opportunity. Unresolved conflict festers just under the surface in organizations. Unresolved conflict undermines alliance-building and mutual, purposeful progress toward accomplishing personal and organizational missions.

  • Be an ally. Support your colleague’s ability to accomplish his or her mission, too. Give credit for ideas and solutions. Publicly express support for your ally’s desired direction. Assuming you actually do support an idea (no fabrication allowed), be among the first to verbally support the idea.

    Don’t wait until you see in which direction the rest of the group is heading. Demonstrate professional courage and speak up early. I had the opportunity to support the opening of a facility in a different state recently. The numbers worked to my company’s advantage and my colleague appreciated my early and verbal support.

  • Finally, never back-stab or blind-side an ally. If you have a problem with their actions, talk to your ally directly. Don’t talk to their boss or your boss because if that is the first person your ally hears from about a problem, you have blown the most fundamental understanding of an alliance. If you let your ally down, you could spend years redeveloping the relationship, if trust at the prior level is ever again even possible.

Alliance-building is a delicate process that can easily go astray. Alliance-building takes time, effort, commitment and sometimes not getting what you want. But, if you want to accomplish your personal work mission, assuming that your mission is positive and congruent with your organization’s mission, you must have allies at work.

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