Some people never struggle with building relationships in the workplace, forming lifelong friendships with their colleagues. Others may find work to be incredibly lonely and isolating, feeling like a never-ending competition against the people they work with day in and day out. For everyone, though, building partnerships and strategic alliances might be the difference-maker in their career, helping them navigate the ins and outs of the professional world — and even spurring personal growth. But what is alliance building at work?
Let’s first define alliance building in professional settings. Alliances are more than casual work friendships — they allow individuals to advance common interests and goals. Alliances are a common concept, in social, political and many other settings; a common thread is that integrity and trust must be present in any effective alliance, and this is no different for alliances at work.
With alliance building, you connect with your team of peers and can be highly beneficial in the process. Alliance building is often a delicate process, yet if you want to accomplish your personal work mission, having allies at work is crucial. Alliance building takes commitment, effort, and time, and you should know going into it that you will not always get exactly what you want out of the process.
Even so, forging alliances at work could potentially be one of the most beneficial career moves you can make.
What Is the Importance of Allies at Work?
There are countless benefits of developing the right partnerships in the workplace. If you are able to build a relationship with someone who can share their experiences and hard-won wisdom with you, it can spare you the need to learn some lessons through failure. Here are a few specific ways the best strategic alliances can pay off.
- Connection: One of the biggest benefits illustrating the importance of allies is the ability to connect with your peers in a constructive way. If you want the best chance of accomplishing your personal goals and mission in work, allies can be a crucial aspect of success. Having the support of others in your organization, whether intra- or interdepartmentally, is extremely important in your career-building efforts.
- Idea Sharing: You will always encounter problems and obstacles at work, and sometimes soliciting a different or even more seasoned perspective is the best approach to take. There’s an old saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” An ally in the workplace is someone you can bring your issues to. They may be able to help you sift through the clutter of ideas in your head, identifying the best options and helping you focus on a solution.
- Advice: When you discuss issues or ask questions of an ally, you discover objectivity. The people you work with may have their own agendas in the matter you face, but advice within alliances and partnerships can bring you neutral input. The advice you receive will be tied to your success, rather than their own.
That being said, alliances should not be mistaken for deep personal relationships; over time, one or both parties may break an alliance, usually for their own self-interests. If you wind up needing to break a workplace alliance, do it in such a way that you can maintain your professional reputation in the process. Although circumstances may dictate such a necessity, you may need to rely on alliances in the future, whether to shield you from adversity or as a pathway to new opportunities.
How To Build Alliances at Work
Carefully evaluate your workplace alliance strategy to ensure it will benefit all involved parties. Why do you feel the need to pursue a particular alliance? What are you hoping to get out of it, and what are you offering to your potential ally? Additionally, you would not enter into an alliance with someone whose interests don’t align with yours or with someone you don’t deem trustworthy.
Here are a few specific tips to help you in forming and maintaining workplace alliances.
- Hone communication skills: Not only must you be able to articulate what you need, you must also be willing and able to carefully listen to the needs of your allies.
- Maintain an equal footing: Treat your workplace allies as your equals, regardless of their positions or seniority. Strive for that same recognition from your allies as well.
- Refrain from gossip: Don’t turn to gossip when developing a workplace alliance. Talking about someone else in the organization — even just in small talk — paints you as untrustworthy, and a potential ally will believe you are likely to gossip about them to someone else.
- Follow through: If you say you will do something, do it. Your alliance will not last long if your ally doesn’t feel he or she can rely on you.
(If you want even more tips, I go into even more detail on forming alliances in my book, Lead, Don’t Manage.)
If you have career goals, alliances in the workplace are crucial for helping you meet those goals. Additionally, consider forming an alliance between companies. Someone in a peer position in another organization may be able to offer you a completely different perspective on an issue you face, or they may share ideas with you that you can introduce at your own company.
If you are uncomfortable seeking a workplace alliance to advance your own interests, remember that this type of relationship is mutually beneficial. The personal connection you form with an ally means that person is more likely to help you — and you them. Keep in mind how challenging it can be trying to go through the corporate world alone and look for ways to form relationships that can help all parties involved. When you have positive and constructive ally relationships with your peers in the workplace, you will all benefit.