When in doubt…co-create!

Apr 4, 2022 | Leadership

“I don’t know what my employee/partner/teammate needs.”

 “I wish I knew how to be a more supportive manager.”

 “I’m not sure how this new partnership is going to go.”

“I’ve tried everything I can think of, but nothing seems to work.”

Do these thoughts sound familiar? I often hear clients wonder what others need or how they should lead in certain situations.  Through our exploration we usually arrive at the solution of ‘ask and co-create.’  Why leave the dynamic or relationship to hope and chance when you can design it on purpose?  Of course, there are many complexities present in new and existing relationships.  We can navigate these by inviting the other person to design the relationship or interaction with us.

In the coaching world we call this practice designing an alliance (similar to setting norms or agreements in other professional contexts).  What is most unique about designing an alliance is that it can be done at any time and is explored as a partnership rather than one party telling the other how the relationship is going to work (or, as is often the case, leaving it to hope and chance filled with assumptions and unspoken expectations).  Designing an alliance is a way to lead – ourselves and others – through inquiry and co-creation.

Here are some questions to consider when designing an alliance:

  • What would make this a supportive/effective/valuable relationship?

  • What is our purpose or shared outcome?

  • What motivates/demotivates you?

  • How will you know you are stuck? How will you communicate that?

  • When difficulty arises, how do we want to meet it?

  • Who/what can support you?

  • How do you like to be acknowledged or celebrated?

  • What would you like my role to be?

  • Is there anything else you would like me to know?

The options are endless and can be crafted based on the phase and context of the relationship.  Fundamental to this approach is asking questions that begin with “how or what” (and sometimes “who”).  This invites curiosity and possibility.  “Yes/no” questions can lead to simple responses that lack nuance.  “Why” questions can sometimes create defensiveness or take the dynamic out of the present moment.

Over the years I’ve seen this approach creatively applied to so many different contexts – here are just a few:

  • Establishing or revisiting a client relationship

  • Building classroom culture with learners/participants

  • Identifying how to best partner with a colleague

  • Creating a safe and supportive environment on a road trip

  • Supporting a child through uncertainty or a new opportunity

  • Supporting a friend through change or a challenge

  • Establishing or redefining a mentor/mentee relationship

  • Defininging employee/team dynamics

  • Co-creating routines and requirements with a long-term houseguest

  • Enhancing/mending existing relationships

  • Redefining roles after retirement and/or empty nesting

  • Building partnership as co-parents

While the designed alliance may be a simple solution, it may not always be easy.  It may give rise to new information and with that new uncertainties or possibilities.  Before engaging in this type of conversation it would be valuable to connect with your own intentions and define which of your values you are honoring by engaging in this type of process – perhaps asking “what is this in service of” or “who do I want to be in this dynamic”?  Also, here’s a #protip – give this process a lot of time and space. Perhaps offer or co-create some questions in advance, explore the answers on your own, and then come back together to have a shared conversation.

Ultimately, this is about leading with intention and curiosity as well as creating a functional, supportive, and effective dynamic.  I would love to hear what has worked for you or to partner with you to explore the possibilities!

With joy,