A New Paradigm of Partnership at Work

By Seth R. Silver and Timothy M. Franz, 2021

Let’s face it: Many team members feel unsupported by their leaders, and it’s the single biggest reason why people quit their job. It also turns out that many leaders feel similarly unsupported by their team. This creates a two-way street of frustration between leaders and teams. Unaddressed, these poor relationships can lead to serious workplace problems.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic.

It altered not only the way in which we work, but it also strained many of the relationships we have with coworkers. It especially revealed a growing hunger among leaders and teams for a deeper connection and a more mutually accountable and rewarding partnership.

No doubt, we all seek healthy and effective relationships at work. But as we know, few of our key work partnerships are exceptional, and frankly most are mediocre or even poor. So, how do we create, maintain and continuously improve our key partnerships, especially the one between leaders and teams?

Use these steps to improve the workplace partnership:

  1. Embrace a new mindset.Leaders and team members must embrace a new mindset of meaningful partnership. It refers to an elevated state of the “4 Cs:” cohesion, connection, coordination and collaboration. It’s a level of partnership that goes above and beyond, that has impact, that’s mutually successful and rewarding, and is a two-way street of care, support and accountability.
  2. Infuse foundational elements for partnership to flourish.Leaders and teams must recognize that meaningful partnership requires strong levels of Empathy, Respect, Trust, Alignment, and Partnership. This is the ERTAP model which our research has found to be the foundation of meaningful workplace relationships. It suggests that these five elements are in many ways sequential, mutually reinforcing, and when combined in synergy, create the necessary conditions for meaningful partnership to flourish.
  3. Develop a workplace covenant.Leaders and teams need to create and routinely use workplace covenants. In brief, a workplace covenant is an honor-bound set of commitments, which have obligatory weight, to one’s work partner. It begins with the exchange of obligations and expectations, with the focus being on “what can I do for you, so that you’ll feel supported and can be successful.” This exchange of behaviors and attitudes between the leader and the team is discussed, compared, refined and documented, resulting in the development of signed workplace covenants. It should be noted that there’s no religious connotation here, but instead simply the establishment of vital behavioral promises that both partners agree to hold themselves to as a matter of personal and professional integrity. They also agree to assess themselves on the covenants and receive feedback on them.

Leaders and teams then regularly review these workplace covenants informally and formally, share them with new team members, discuss them during one-on-ones, and use them as a basis for managing and continuously improving how they work together, so that both the leader and team continue to feel supported and can be successful.

What are the benefits of meaningful partnership? It’s a ‘vaccine’ that prevents the ‘virus’ of dissatisfaction, disengagement, despair and departure (the Dreaded 4 Ds) that occur all too often in today’s workplaces. Meaningful partnership is what today’s younger workers seek but aren’t always able to articulate. They will say that they search for significance at work and collaborations that are authentic and mutually rewarding. But it begs the question: how do you create that work environment? Meaningful partnership, ERTAP and workplace covenants are the concepts and tools to provide that answer.

Finally, for those organizations seeking to promote a positive culture, meaningful partnership offers a compelling vision. It’s a place where employees often encourage and praise, where managers go above and beyond to support their staff, where constructive feedback is exchanged without anxiety or fear, and where everyone is doing their daily best to ensure the success of others. It may seem idealistic, but actually, it’s quite achievable when both the leaders and the teams embrace a new paradigm of collaboration — one of meaningful partnership.

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Seth R. Silver, Ed.D., is the principal of Silver Consulting, Inc., and has worked with hundreds of diverse clients on leadership, cultural change, employee engagement and workplace success. Dr. Silver was also an associate professor of Human Resource Development at St. John Fisher College.

Timothy M. Franz, Ph.D., is an Organizational Psychologist, Professor of Psychology, and interim Chair at St. John Fisher College. In addition to his academic role, he also works as an organizational consultant through his firm, Franz Consulting.

Their new book, Meaningful Partnership at Work: How the Workplace Covenant Ensures Mutual Accountability and Success between Leaders and Teams (Productivity Press, 2021), provides a powerful model of how work partnerships can be created and sustained. Learn more at teambuildingprocess.com or silverconsultinginc.com.