If we look at a traditional organization chart, everyone on the same rung of the ladder we occupy can be considered a peer. The thing we have in common, in most organizations, is there are fewer positions at each level as we climb to the top of the ladder.
To remain on the ladder at all we have to contribute to the success of the organization. However, even if we’re a superstar and our part of the organization is humming, unless we collaborate with other departments it’s difficult to affect the overall performance of the organization. To do that we typically must collaborate with our peers.
This can be a challenge, due to the inherent competition peers face. In many organizations, it’s not unusual for the senior executive of a functional area to work independently, with her subordinates, and with her boss, and only interact with their peers at a weekly staff meeting or on projects where they’re representing their functional area.
Because this is the norm, executives who develop peer relationships within their organization that transcend one or the others departure is the exception rather than the rule. Even though it may involve stepping outside of our comfort zone it can be well worth it, particularly if we consider it the distinguishing trait our boss would look for in his successor.
- Seek Their Counsel and Collaborate for Success
When we demonstrate to someone that we respect their opinion enough to seek their counsel, particularly as it pertains to their area of expertise, we’re opening the door for collaboration.
One opportunity to do this can be when we’re drafting a presentation or plan to make a change in how our department or organization does their work. Calling or visiting a peer for their perspective demonstrates respect. It also builds trust. After all, if every time we are going to propose a change in our area of responsibility that affects one of our peers, they know we’ll run it by them and consider their perspective, we demonstrate we can be trusted.
When we look for opportunities to collaborate with our peers it changes our perspective from. “How can I be successful?” to “How can we collaborate to insure our mutual success”? If we can align on an approach we also have a greater opportunity for success.
This approach is not without risk. We’ve all had situations like this backfire, some of them with long-term consequences. Being prepared to diffuse a situation when a peer makes a derogatory or inflammatory comment is essential as often our initial reaction is to respond in kind.
- Promote Their Corporate Image
Looking for opportunities to remark upon contributions our peers make is an attractive professional trait. During a presentation or conversation we can often find the opportunity to attribute ideas we received from a peer or comment positively on their contribution as instrumental to achieving a goal that’s important to the organization.
Conversely, when we’re disappointed in the performance of a peer or her organization, the only person we should discuss it with is that person. One organizational dynamic that never leads to success is when we disparage someone’s reputation explicitly or implicitly.
That doesn’t mean we have to disingenuously endorse someone who’s not performing. It does mean we have to disengage from conversations that can be damaging to their professional image. We’ve all had such conversations and although it’s sometimes tempting to “dish the dirt” those statements can come back to haunt us.
- Provide Honest Feedback
Most of us feel uncomfortable providing unflattering feedback. When we do it out of genuine concern, or because we’ve been asked, particularly with our peers, we have to tread carefully.
One method of doing this is to start the conversation by making positive statements about their experience or the approach they’ve taken.
In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the principles he articulated in 1936 still apply today.
He advises us to: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.” This can be easier if we rehearse our opening prior to discussing an issue with a peer. In the quiet of our own minds we can usually find genuine positive attributes.
He also offers the suggestion that we “Talk about our own mistakes.” This demonstrates our understanding that we’re all just “works in progress” and also goes a long way to showing that you’re genuinely concerned in ensuring this person’s success.
He goes on to recommend that we, “Ask questions instead of giving direction.” For example, “In the competitive analysis you’ did a great job of showing X. What did you find out about Y?”
Like any relationship, peer relationships grow deeper over time. By not being in a hurry and giving peers the opportunity to collaborate you can develop relationships with peers in your current organization.
Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.