Q: I lead a project that is supposed to be a collaboration of equals to share resources. However, my peer at the other agency is trying to take over and put her agency's needs first. How should I handle this?
A: Model the behavior you want and expect accountability to your agreements.
THE INNER GAME
You are looking for a fair process and an equitable outcome; is it clear what that means? Setting aside your own defensiveness and annoyance, is it possible that you each have a different definition? What if she thinks that you're actually on track in pursuit of your shared goal? Or, even more interestingly, what if she could have asked the same question because she feels like you're trying to take over?
The point is, there's a lot of room for ambiguity in a project like this. Just for example, if you haven't spelled out the following items, you could easily get out of sync:
–How you select areas for resource sharing – people time vs. paper clip purchases.
–The criteria you use to prioritize.
–How you break ties if you disagree.
Then there's the personal side. If she has a strong personality and you're more laid back, you may feel like she's trying to dominate. Style differences are often confused with intent, and it's important to differentiate. Imagine – she may be wishing you were stepping up more aggressively.
THE OUTER GAME
Take the point of view that, together, you can make this an incredibly effective partnership and bring fabulous results to both organizations. Having said that, what needs to occur to bring that to fruition?
Your best tool is communication, openly engaging to remove any walls and prevent barriers that may interfere with progress. This takes a little planning and a lot of courage. If there's currently some discord, it may also require involvement from a third party to help you both let go of any antagonism and get on the same page.
So, if your relationship is generally solid, set up time to meet, billing it as a "review of progress to date." Be up front about areas that you think need attention, while staying positive in your tone and including successes in your review. Be sure she knows that it's a meeting for mutually exploring ways to continue to strengthen the relationship, not a dumping session on her. Adapt this as needed if things are more contentious, perhaps suggesting to her that you have a working session with a coach or facilitator to help work through any issues.
Also modify your behavior, if needed. It's not just about her. It's your role to be an effective and direct advocate for your agency's needs, so be clear about what those needs are and practice articulating them so that you're ready if challenged.
Celebrate successes together and put time into knowing each other. Having some personal connection will help you understand style difference and will help you give each other the benefit of the doubt. Plus, it's more fun.
THE LAST WORD
If you can understand her point of view and share yours, you'll achieve a more successful partnership.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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