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By Alvaro Pombo
February 21, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some strategies for making allies in the office?” is written by Alvaro Pombo, CEO and founder of ProntoForms.

In workplaces with complicated structures and competing objectives, allies are essential to getting things done. Even in a relatively flat organization, having friends in the office can’t hurt.

But as a leader, I prefer to see people rallying around ideas and initiatives than around cliques or favored relationships, and I’m allergic to silos. So, I’m concerned with shaping a culture that both encourages a spirit of collaboration and makes everyone allies.

At ProntoForms, we have a culture specialist who works across the company to cultivate that spirit. Of the many practices she champions, these are four of my favorites:

Focus on a common adversary

Make sure your company has a shared purpose, clear goals that support the purpose, and alignment of those goals in the same direction. We want people to challenge ideas with the goal of making them stronger, not to dispute each other and build individual power bases. Of course, even with a common purpose and aligned goals, it’s natural to have some competition over scarce resources. That’s when you really must rely on the trust and respect that’s been built up within the organization, and a willingness to work together. In that sense, everyone is an ally, and the adversary is the problem you’re trying to solve.

Hire employees, not egos

One of our core values is curiosity. We are always learning and looking for ways to bring more value to our customers. We like to hire people who know a lot, but what we really value are people who are curious to know more and to share their discoveries. In a learning environment, it’s important to check egos at the door and challenge ideas, not people.

We have an employee in our research and development department with a background in fine arts and teaching who has been an essential part of developing our product. If we’d limited ourselves to hiring someone with a background that aligned with the “traditional” job requirements for her position, we would have missed out on the unique perspective she brings to the table. Her enthusiasm for learning and teaching others helps us think about how customers might understand and use ProntoForms.

 

Encourage ideas from everywhere

If you want employees to think innovatively about your business, you have to create an environment that allows ideas to spring up and be heard. Having a relatively flat organizational structure helps, but even in a more complex organization, you can do this by being actively available to people. By showing curiosity about the work individuals are doing, listening to the ideas they bring to you, and then giving them autonomy to act, you’re better able to foster innovation.

Have fun together

When the pressure goes up at work, the allies you want most are those who can make you laugh and keep it all in perspective. So pitch in and help each other, and have fun doing it.

Workplace culture is all about how people collaborate to accomplish something that matters. It’s not prescribed through some top-down edict. We express our culture in our shared values, the decisions we make, the priorities we set, the people we hire, the occasions we celebrate, the way we recover from setbacks, our shared jokes (no matter how bad), and the way we learn and grow together.

Ultimately, the best way to make allies is to be one yourself. In the best workplaces, ideas are king and everyone can be an ally in the pursuit of shared goals.

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