Breakdowns are inevitable missteps that accompany the risks of innovation, experimentation, and plunging into something new.
Unlike lessons that can be learned only through trial and error, some breakdowns reveal preventable ways in which people are not working well together. Some of these common pitfalls are:
- Unclear expectations
Effective collaboration depends on strong partnerships. In a rush to produce results fast at the start of a new work relationship or the beginning of a new project, people rely too often on implied and unspoken ground rules. These unspoken assumptions may include things such as:
- Your job is to make my job easier
- You agree with me
- You must not do anything that makes me look or feel bad
- You will tell me if something is not working for you
- Email is the best way for us to communicate
When an unexpected challenge arises, people operating under these rules of engagement will carry on rather than have a direct conversation about what has gone awry.
Because you can expect that some variation of these inter-personal dynamics will arise whenever people work together, you can take steps to mitigate the impact. During my coaching certification at The Coaches Training Institute, I learned the importance of a “Designed Alliance” with my clients. These are agreements I co-create with a new client at the beginning of the coaching engagement that will allow each of us to do our best work together. These agreements help if either party becomes dissatisfied with the process, and are subject to evolve over time. This practice is critical, and it is the conversation to return to if the work gets stuck.
I encourage all leaders to take on this practice of designing their alliances with key individuals and teams. By spending time up front to create agreements on ways of working together, you can prevent or minimize the impact of mischief down the road. It is a conversation about how you will work together instead of what you will together on. This requires patience, as there is often initial excitement to get busy and jump straight into the work.
Here are some suggested questions for designing your alliances:
- What is our purpose for working together?
- What outcome do we want?
- What is the best way to communicate with each other?
- How will I know if you are unhappy with me?
- How do we ensure everyone participates fully?
- What is the best way to offer you feedback?
It is never too late to strengthen your alliances with old acquaintances. Do this exercise with existing teams, current employees, peers, and bosses. To stay clear, write down the agreements, keep them handy, and review them periodically. In meetings, post them on the wall or write them on the whiteboard each time the group meets. There will always be challenges whenever people come together to get something done, and breakdowns will still happen. This will assist in addressing difficult conversations and help to prevent the small stuff from turning into gridlock.