We go to work every day with a lot on our minds.  What do I need to do, what are my top priorities, what do I need from this person and that person?  We are well trained at achieving our goals and taking care of business from our own perspective.  Individual bootstrap consciousness still reigns supreme in spite of all of our talk about teamwork.
What would occur if we genuinely shifted our thought process from me to we?  If we could genuinely care about our colleagues’ intentions and objectives as if they were our own, we would eventually create what we refer to as cooperative advantage.  This approach to business can help us discover how 1 + 1 = 3 when synergy is at play while attending to our challenges and priorities every day.  While the white paper link above will provide you with in-depth analysis and recommended practices for your team and organization, this article is about how you can personally strengthen your own brand of cooperative advantage immediately. Your step by step process could look like this:
  1. Identify the people you already consider part of your “inner circle.” These are the people you rely upon to add your value to the organization or your customers. Without them you couldn’t earn a living. Many of them are trusted colleagues you respect and get along well with. Others are people you’d like to have better relationships with. Whoever directly impacts your ability to perform is potentially in your inner circle.
  2. Prioritize your list of people in your inner circle. Who can you help be more successful, and who can help you become more successful? What great relationships do you want to strengthen even more, and with whom do you need to make immediate improvements with?
  3. For your short list of priority relationships create a 1st draft list of what you know is important to them that will increase mutual respect and trust if you intentionally support them to have these “concerns” fulfilled. For example, one colleague will put a high value on being appreciated verbally, while another colleague will put high value on giving them your ear when they are up against a big challenge. Everyone has a list of concerns that are important to them that we come to understand over time. You may be surprised, however, at what you learn about what is important to people as you continue through this process with a stronger intention to understand and support your colleagues.
  4. Once you have your 1st draft list of concerns created for a colleague, write each one down on its own index card. If you identified 5 concerns you believe are important to them, you’ll have 5 cards, but add a couple of blank cards to your deck. Ask for some time to clarify what is important to them as a demonstration of your intention to become a more effective ally.
  5. When you meet with your colleague share why they are important to you as someone you rely upon, and tell them you would like to improve your ability to be supportive of their intentions and success.
  6. Place your deck of cards on the table and ask your colleague to rank what’s important to them from top to bottom; and suggest they add anything that’s important to them you may have missed on a blank card to include in their ranking. Give them time to move the cards around until they have clarified their priority concerns to you. You will discover people really enjoy a hands on game of cards much more than identifying priorities on a typed list. The hands on approach allows them to move their priorities around until they get it right.
  7. Take great notes as they talk and ask clarifying questions as they share their concerns with you. There will be some surprises that are important to capture. All of this information will help you be an even better colleague to them. The benefit of this interview is twofold: you are proactively demonstrating you care about their concerns as much as you care about your own; and secondly, you have a much richer understanding of what you can focus on with them that will lead to deeper trust and mutual respect.
  8. Confirm their ranking of their priority concerns at the end of your meeting and explicitly let your colleague know you will be looking for ways to be a more supportive colleague. If any actionable commitments arise during your interview be sure to reinforce your intention to complete them.
  9. Use what you’ve learned to be a great partner once the interview is over. Trust that the more you focus on helping your colleagues receive what is important to them as you go about your business, the more they will do the same for you. See if you can highlight the improvements in how you are being trusted and respected so you can express your appreciation for the ever improving cooperation between the two of you.
  10. Whether you do this exercise informally once with a colleague or take a regular, more structured approach with your most important clients and colleagues, find the appropriate way to follow up and assess what is working well and where improvements are needed in your mutual pursuit of building cooperative advantage.

This approach may seem a bit rigid and unnecessarily structured, so of course you can customize it with different people who will resonate to different approaches in your growing circle of trust. You may also wonder about how much time you can really invest in this type of relationship building. Just think of your world today, however, and how different it would be if you had a real team of allies coming in to work every day with your best interests at heart and the willingness to go out of their way to help you. Pay it forward. Stay the course until you are achieving more results with more ease and helping others do the same. Transform your approach to being successful and see what happens!

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