The Lessons of Cultivating Alliances
Updated: Nov 26, 2021
An ally is an individual who enables you to bring your personal work mission to effectuation.
When we take the time to look around at our colleagues, friends, and family members who we deem successful or on top of their field, we notice a common trait irrespective of the industry they work in. In addition to having mentors that they take guidance from, we observe that these professionals have also cultivated relationships with their team members, senior management members, and more experienced individuals in their profession who all advocate for them. These particular individuals are known as allies.
What is an ally?
An ally is an individual who can facilitate the actualization of our work mission. Allies are in positions within our organization, and they can assist in advancing our careers.
Developing allies at our workplace is imperative to our personal and professional development. Given that we want to ameliorate into influential leaders, these individuals can, in some cases, provide us with the historical context concerning our role within our organization. This helps us further ascertain what success will look like in that particular role or field.
Allies can advocate for us, put forward support for our concepts, and can dispense information and well-earned experiences. Additionally, their advocacy for us is able to motivate other people and extend friendship and guidance.
Most importantly, when we face difficulties, they will be there to hold our hands and guide us.
The indispensability of allies
Allies embody leadership, encouragement, and reinforcement. Depending on the positions these individuals hold within our workplace, they can clarify decisions being made by our senior leadership teams, why those determinations matter, and their impact both internally within the organization and externally. Most significantly, how these judgments are influenced by the company mission, vision, and objectives and the part we play in those pronouncements and the effect on our teams.
Allies can assist us in effecting our own personal work objectives and goals. They can aid in advancing our careers by providing us with constructive feedback, coaching and recommend us for emerging leadership programs and training. Furthermore, they can offer assistance in helping us make strong connections inside and outside our organizations, enabling us to enhance our personal advancements further.
My own experience with allies
When I start a new job in any company, one of the first things I do is seek out potential allies. They can be team members, senior management members, and even more experienced senior management members.
I believe it’s essential to have multiple allies, some outside my own department, to understand other viewpoints better. I look for people that will be invested in my success and will give critical feedback. As I aspire to lead an organization one day, being a humble and effective leader is a requirement, so I keep developing myself in a way that advances my career.
Establishing these relationships is a priority because they can ease my acclimatization into the organization faster, allowing me to hit the ground running. They can help me understand the organization’s culture, the subculture of the different teams I will need to work with, and they can offer introductions to my counterparts and their leaders within those teams.
Allies can also give guidance when it comes to presenting to leadership. They can offer context on who the leaders are, their leadership styles, what they like to see in presentations, formats of presentations, and most notably, how to make an impact via storytelling.
Addedly, these connections can give me insights into past decisions within the product management and scrum teams and how to bring my product vision to fruition through storytelling, collaboration, and in some cases, leading without authority.
In my 8+ years of experience in product management, I have always had allies regardless of the type of organization I worked in. These alliances have helped me to manage challenges and difficulties that have come my way as I can reach out to my support network to collaborate, share ideas, and discover together a fitting solution to any problem.
Since I get to stand on the shoulders of these individuals, I have become a high-performing leader who can offer the same type of support to our interns and new colleagues. For me, those relationships have blossomed into great friendships that I still have today.
How do you find allies in the workplace
There are many ways professionals can find allies. I’ve found some allies effortlessly through bonding over a shared goal or interest or offering an indispensable viewport or experience.
When I move into a new position or start a new job, one of the first activities I do is sit down with a teammate to review all the teams we work with, the individuals on those teams, their leadership, and the impact they have on our projects - both inside and outside our department. Likewise, on this list, I include my manager's colleagues.
When I finally meet with my manager, I share my list and ensure I don’t miss anyone or ask if they have any recommendations of who I should meet as soon as possible to hit the ground running. After compiling a list, I then set up a meet and greet. I call it the “newbie tour.”
As I meet with all these individuals, I am also asking them for their thoughts on what success in my role looks like to them within a specified time (30, 60, or 90 days) and what expostulations I may face in this role in the long run. Likewise, I’ll ask for their counsel regarding how best to manage these challenges, and any other teams I will need to work in partnership with that are not already on my list. If there are, I’ll ask them if they can introduce me.
Then, I ask the all-important question of how they want me to keep them apprised of updates. If they ask for regular 1-1s, I schedule them, and I always make sure I attend on time. This is the beginning of building a relationship and a successful alliance with them, so I am sure to make a lasting impression.
My alliances tend to include senior team members, senior management members, and more experienced senior management members - regardless of the departments they’re in. I pay close attention to how they lead by example, manage up, how they perform under pressure, and how they convey information, particularly when imperativeness is required, not anxiety. I listen for their tone and selection of words.
The longer I am in my role and successfully meeting my goals, the more my allies trust me and become invested in my success. When they become invested, they consequently will continue to introduce me to other people and suggest new projects I can lead or collaborate on, even endorse leaders I should present my projects to, allowing me to raise my profile within the organization.
When review and promotion season comes along, my allies will be advocating for me because they have gotten to know me. They know my career aspirations, the projects I have worked on, the successes I have had, and my strengths and weaknesses.
Allies are individuals who provide backing, support, guidance, knowledge, and friendship.
It is of the utmost importance that we cultivate allies in our workplace. We cannot go at it alone. We need individuals who are invested in our effectiveness, they help us bring to fruition our own personal work mission, and when the going gets tough, we need allies who will hold our hand and help us get through the most difficult days and challenges we might face.