Recently I’ve been in conversations about alliance projects in general, and more specifically the Alliance Principles which are adopted by the partners under an alliance model to help make projects successful. One of the questions I’m frequently asked about is, why would you ever need a principle around ‘being open and honest and treating people with respect’?
It does seem straight forward (in theory) to say you will have honest and transparent conversations with others. But I know from experience that it can be much harder in practice and I think there are a number of reasons for this:
- in alliances we come from different organisations who have their own cultures and models for working and communicating with each other;
- we may be unfamiliar with our team mates and feel uncomfortable to speak up;
- we prefer to avoid difficult conversations at all costs;
- we keep quiet about issues for fear of making trouble or appearing difficult;
- we don’t want to admit we’ve made a mistake so don’t front up to needing support or assistance;
- maybe it’s easier to hide behind email rather than speak up and be counted;
- we’re just really busy and simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of dealing with what we perceive as a challenging situation.
Being truly open and honest with others is key to building trust. High levels of trust equals high levels of speed and in an Alliance this is critical to ensure we deliver outstanding outcomes as a project team as quickly and effectively as we can. The challenge is to be courageous and to have those honest and open conversations as early as possible. When everyone feels comfortable doing this, it not only saves time but also inevitably saves money and can improve performance in all areas. Being open and honest also links to ‘positive conflict’ where the focus is always on the issue, rather than on the person.
When I think about the other half of this particular alliance principle – ‘treating people with respect’ – I’m reminded of a couple of great quotes from two very different Americans. One is from the Cherokee Nation – “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” That possibly inspired the author Harper Lee in her wonderful book, To Kill A Mockingbird, where she wrote: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” These quotations tell me not to be too quick to judge others or be disrespectful. This can mean changing the conversation from a starting point of judgement to one of enquiry, asking questions, listening for meaning, replacing criticism with understanding and looking to others to learn new ways of doing things. When we show we have considered what others think and feel, then we have shown respect which is the best foundation for discussing topics in an open and honest way.
While this may sound pretty basic not every individual, organisation or alliance team gets it right. We all come from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, and in an alliance we’ll be working alongside people from different companies, backgrounds, cultures and ways of communicating. We’re not all the same: treat and speak to people in the way you’d like to be treated and spoken to. Listen and ask questions. What’s the other person’s view and why might it be worthy to listen to and potentially act on? Not always easy in practice but essential to developing those strong working relationships which show through in all the best alliance teams. Combine this with building a high level of trust through positive intent and positive conflict and you have the foundations set for a high performing alliance team.