Do you work as part of an alliance?.

Have you ever wondered how your partner sees your organisation?

Here, Sarah Barber shares how red10 ‘s Feedback-on-a-Page™ can help you see yourselves as your partner sees you.

A nod to Robert Burns

Burns night is celebrated in Scotland on January 25th to remember the life and poetry of Robert Burns. In his famous poem, The Louse, can be found the following lines (translated from Scots language):

Oh, would some Power the gift give us

To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us,

And foolish notion…

Why not give yourselves this gift?

Giving and receiving honest feedback

When working with alliances, we often recommend our Feedback-on-a-Page™ process in advance of a workshop in which leaders from both sides come together to figure out how they can work most effectively together.

We use this with single company teams too. The process is described below.

Gathering the feedback

We begin by conducting a half-hour phone conversation with every member of the alliance leadership team. We ask two open questions to get qualitative feedback :-

  1.  What is working well in the alliance that we want to keep, protect and nurture?
  2.  What do we need to do differently to make the alliance the best it can be?

We then ask for quantitative feedback in the form of a score between 0 and 10 on the nine dimensions of alliance effectiveness and an overall score.

During the conversation we help people to phrase feedback constructively e.g. by replacing a negative comment with a request for a positive opposite.

The transcript of the interview is shared with the team member to allow them to make any corrections or additions. It is not shared with anyone else.

Feedback-on-a-Page™ – Quantitative feedback

Once we have agreed transcripts from everyone, we start to compile a report.

For the quantitative feedback, we work out an average and a range for each score and present these in traffic light format on the first page of the report. We do this for the alliance overall and for each of the partners separately.

This allows leaders to quickly see the big picture – and in particular any differences in perception between the two companies involved. This provides an opportunity for a discussion about different perceptions and actions to address any issues. You can see a sample report below.

Feedback-on-a-Page™ – Qualitative feedback

We look across the qualitative feedback and identify themes that three or more people have mentioned. We give the theme a name and add a number in brackets to show the number of people who have mentioned this theme.

We describe the theme using people’s own words, but mixing up sentences from different people so that it is not obvious who has said what. Anonymising feedback in this way encourages people to be frank which is especially important in alliances where politeness can be a barrier to people sharing how they feel about the other partner.

Feedback that only one or two people have given is not lost but is recorded briefly in a category called “other”. The result is a concise summary of “working well” and “do differently” on a single side of paper.

For an alliance, we colour code the words according to the company that the person providing the feedback came from. In the example below, Company A is red and Company B is blue.

It is not unusual for us to have a sentence that is half red and half blue! This is very important and helpful data for the Alliance Workshop – many companies have seen this and realised that they have more in common than they had thought.

As for the quantitative feedback, leaders can readily see the big picture. An even mix of colours will indicate agreement on what is working well – or what needs to be done differently.

A predominance of one colour within a theme will indicate that the theme is more important to one company or the other.

Using the Feedback

We share our report first with team leaders from both companies and then with the wider team as a pre-read for their workshop.

The clarity that it provides about how the alliance is seen from both sides means that the meeting can get off to a flying start. Team members can celebrate what is working well and decide what actions they would like to take to address the “Do Differently” themes.

Some common themes in Alliance Feedback

Many of the themes we identify when interviewing members of alliances are similar to those we identify when interviewing single company teams. However, there are a few themes that we find often crop up in alliances:

    1. Governance and decision-making can be particularly tough for alliance teams to manage. When a large company and a small company come together, the large company processes can seem very complex to the smaller company. And when there are two large companies the complexity matches but the process rarely does.

A helpful step forward is for the Alliance Project Managers, together, to create a 1-page map proposing how they can most efficiently navigate the governance timetable of both companies, e.g. given that company A needs the investment decision in April and B needs it in December, let’s do the work once for both companies in April.

    2. Values assume greater importance in Alliance Teams. When there is not a shared set of company values to fall back on, teams find it helpful to develop specific alliance values. And declaring “trust” or “transparency” as a shared value helps teams to be open when the going gets tough -rather than making assumptions about the other company’s motives and behaviours.
    3. Strong partnerships between pairs of individuals can really help drive alliances forwards. Often in feedback the Project Managers or the alliance Managers from the two companies are called out as a team strength that helps keep the alliance on track.

You can read more about the five habits that increase the chance of alliance success in this article about alliance effectiveness.