Designing the Alliance: the final frontier in communication

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” – Star Trek

The topic of my previous post was listening. I was tempted at the time to continue to write about coaching competencies and their comparability to leadership traits – or, in general, to productive similar competencies in organizations.

The topic of today is a bit of a stretch from this initial idea. It is about the benefits of “designing an alliance” in almost any human interaction we have. Somehow and unsure why, it connected in my mind to Star Trek. Potentially it qualifies as an equally bold mission.

“Designing the alliance” is one of the many simple, beautiful and useful concepts I have learned while training with CTI (The Coaches Training Institute). In more familiar terms, designing the alliance means creating a framework and setting the tone of a  future relationship. The designed alliance contributes to fruitful cooperation, an open and trusting relationship, and a problem-solving attitude to any potential issues that may occur in the relationship in the future.

There are countless times when I was asked a question that had the answer in designing an alliance, in both work and personal environments.

For instance, few years ago when attending a conference as HR for an internal consulting unit in one of the banks where I worked. My stakeholders were interested to know if it would be possible and how they could make sure that their ideas for business improvements were accepted by their internal customers. This theme has always been sensitive in consultancy and it was of particular interest to internal consultants. Not only for effectiveness, but also because quite a few of them had chosen to join the organization as a transition step, bridging towards new positions with direct business responsibility.

On one other occasion, a client came to coaching quite baffled about his conflict with a peer representing a different department in an important project for the organization – a person who had been, thus far, a reliable partner in many common endeavours.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, I have recently heard a fellow coach mentioning that he and his wife agreed on how they should work together in raising their newly born baby with as little stress as possible.

Surely you’ve seen it by now, the magical answer for all the cases above-mentioned is “designing an alliance”.

The CTI manual describes designing the alliance as “the container” in which the coaching relationship takes place. An alliance is usually a way to set expectations – and there are times when we are deceived not by the behavior of others, but by our own expectations from the others, often unexpressed or clarified.

Paraphrasing the CTI definition, the purpose of an alliance is to:

  • Create a safe and honest space for the relationship
  • Establish trust and
  • Empower partners.

The alliance is continuous and ongoing. Once trust is established is always easy for any of the parties to want to discuss what works well and what doesn’t work so well in the relationship. Hence, the alliance flows easily and the same is true for the relationship.

Perhaps at times designing an alliance is not possible, for reasons that stretch from personal values to the organizational set-up; yet most of the times it is possible and certainly worth trying. Because once the “worst case scenario” for the relationship is openly discussed, anything in-between can be brought up firmly, yet gently.

A bit more about how to design an alliance. With your permission, I’ll focus on a work relationship:

  • Start by stating the idea of an alliance and its purpose;
  • Explain what you are prepared to offer;
  • Be clear about what you would ideally expect from the relationship;
  • Talk about the practicalities of your relationship, i.e. how often will you meet and for long, and about how you will relate to each other; discuss about keeping each other informed in-between meetings; agree on how you will make decisions, etc.

The following questions may help in creating an alliance:

  • What are you looking for in this relationship?
  • How do you want to proceed? What is most important for you?
  • What are your expectations from me? What are you committed to?
  • What do you say “yes” and what do you say “no” to in a relationship?
  • What kind of communication works best for you? How often?
  • What should we do to avoid conflict and, if it arises, how could we get unstuck?

Remember that designing an alliance is a positive, encouraging experience. The whole idea is that, by providing value and trusting the relationship, we increase our own credibility and the chances of a good relationship. The rest depends on the other – as there is always a need for two in a relationship. Yet, it is one of my deepest beliefs that there’s little, if anything, more rewarding than doing our part – in the best possible way in any given situation, for the common good.

Ultimately, designing an alliance is about creating a trusting partnership…And, as we know, trust is crucial to a good relationship. Designing the alliance comes first and enables trust.

Best success in designing (new) alliances with the most important people in your life, whoever and wherever they are!

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