Partnering means profitability

Ketchikan, Alaska. Native American totem pole

Low man...totem pole...get it? Image via Wikipedia

Business partnering is a beautiful thing. The idea is that two professionals mutually commit to help each other with their objectives in which there is no formal obligation to do so.

The Latin countries do this very well as personal relationships are necessary to do business. Americans generally go the extra mile when a friend is involved as well. A friend would lose a great deal of face if they “sold out” a colleague with whom they are friendly before exhausting all personal efforts to resolve the dispute or solve the problem at a local level.

Over-reliance on partnering leads to corruption and favoritism. However, generally, knowing that we can trust others in our close circles helps our organizations. Trust can mean avoiding formal, bureaucratic channels that would otherwise take too long to make things happen. People are more likely to portray a realistic picture of a situation or problem, knowing that the other person is there to help rather than score points with the boss. When relationships are governed by formal rules and hierarchical relationships, things don’t seem to move as fast and bottlenecks can be the result.

Although the military is generally hierarchical, much of the actual management gets done in a trust-based way at lower levels. Lieutenants, as the lowest officers on the totem pole, are often the scapegoats for many problems that develop. Their only defense is what is known as the LPA (Lieutenant Protection Agency), which is an informal channel of sharing information, presentation content, and general techniques for avoiding non-nonsensical blame. The savy LT helps out when she can, and asks for help when necessary.

Business partnering is absolutely necessary to move beyond the typical hierarchical organizational structure that is ingrained in many of our minds, assuming that is the objective…which it often isn’t. Partnering, and trust,  breaks down when a hierarchical hammer is used to resolve disputes. Although seemingly resolved, using the hammer to resolve the dispute simply pushes it under the surface. Similar to the concept of “technical debt” in programming, the breakdown of trust has a cost that no spreadsheet can adequately capture.


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