By Caroline Smith and the Mind Tools Team
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Finding Your Allies

Building Strong and Supportive Relationships at Work

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Get the right people on board.

"A problem shared is a problem halved," as the old saying goes, and it's true in business as well. When it comes to working your way through the challenges that you face every day, it's a great help to be able to draw on a network of supportive individuals that you can work with to find a solution.

Allies are the people who give you backing, assistance, advice, information, protection, and even friendship. They are your support base. With strong, mutually beneficial relationships with your allies, you can survive and thrive in the corporate arena, and you can get things done quicker, and more smoothly. Working together with allies simply helps you and them achieve more. (Here, we're using the word "ally" in its positive sense – we're not implying that you're trying to circumvent proper channels, engage in politics or game-play, or create any kind of "us and them" culture. It is clearly wrong to behave in this way.)

Anyone and everyone who can help you achieve your objectives is a potential ally. Some are natural: They are people who share a common interest with you. The colleague who's been around for years and can offer an invaluable voice of experience, the team member who is always happy to be a sounding board for your ideas, or the vendor who is ready to accept seemingly-impossible deadlines; these people are your natural allies.

But you can find allies in unexpected places too. Alex in finance, who pulls together an extra report on your projects finances; Claire, the secretary, who tells you when the boss is in a good mood; or Simon, your ex-department head who is always available for advice. They too are important allies.

Tip:

Allies can help you directly and indirectly. For instance, if you're running behind schedule on a project, your subordinate can help you directly by working longer hours, while your boss can help you indirectly by delegating another part of your workload to someone else.

Building Your Personal Support Base

This is one of the reasons that it's important to be open and supportive to others in the workplace, and why it's worth making at least a small amount of your time available to help others out when they need help. After all, if you're a positive and supportive person, many other people will be equally supportive towards you.

So who could your allies be? Just your team mates? Actually, your list of potential allies goes much further than this!

Table 1 below provides an example list of allies, with the support you might be able to receive from them, and the returns you might be expected to provide to them.

Table 1: Possible Allies – And What They May Want...

Potential Ally What He/She
Could Do for You
What He/She Might Be Expecting in Return
Team Members

Assist you with regular tasks.

Be loyal.

Be a sounding board.

Assistance with regular tasks.

Loyalty.

Recognition.

Credit – given both publicly and privately.

Boss

Protect you.

Champion you.

Help you in career advancement.

Loyalty.

Support.

Assistance with his/her tasks.

Commitment.

Willingness to go the extra mile.

Image building.

Senior Management Members

Protect you.

Champion you.

Help you in career advancement.

Loyalty.

Support.

Commitment.

Willingness to go the extra mile.

Image building.

Support Staff

Willing performance of day-to-day functions.

Cooperation.

Appreciation.

Attention.

Recognition.

Gateway People (Secretaries, Executive Assistants) Provide you with access to crucial information and people.

Appreciation.

Attention.

Recognition.

Family Provide moral support, appreciation, understanding.

Moral support.

Appreciation.

Understanding.

More Experienced Colleagues Provide expertise, perspective, contacts, knowledge.

Respect.

Recognition.

Attention.

Networking Allies

Keep you abreast of the general buzz.

Provide you advance information and background knowledge.

Provide you contacts.

Alert you to emerging trends and patterns.

Advance information.

Background knowledge.

Contacts.

Alerts about emerging trends and patterns.

Interest Groups

Build influence.

Mobilize support.

Provide you data.

Assistance for their cause.
Community Members

Build influence.

Mobilize support.

Provide you data.

Assistance for their cause.
Press

Build influence.

Mobilize support.

Information.
Government

Build influence.

Mobilize support.

Assistance for their cause.
Clients

Provide inputs for new product development initiatives.

Provide referrals.

Provide preferential status.

Preferential status.

Willingness to go extra mile.

Business leads.

Referrals.

Vendors

Provide extra assistance.

Provide preferential status.

Preferential status.

Business leads.

Referrals.

Tip:

Don't be naive in the way that you approach people – be aware of people's interests and duties, and understand that these may conflict with yours. Also, recognize that they may not be able to help you for a variety of possible reasons.

And make absolutely sure that you keep confidential information confidential!

Nurture your allies, and you'll find that you can be so much more effective at getting things done. What's more, things will get so much easier and more pleasant at work!

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Comments (6)
  • Over a month ago Tlcearns wrote
    I just started a new job, and when asked by my new "boss" to report the comings and goings a teammate, I shared the task with the teammate in question. The teammate was upset and communicated so back to the "boss". The Boss then counseled me as to the incorrect alliances I am building. I tried to communicate to the boss that all my team are my alliances, and did not like being asked to "watchdog" my team mate. How could I have handled this better? My “boss” now states she has disconnected from me and cannot trust my loyalty.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Interesting point fxgg092 about whether we, or our allies, are in it for ourselves or to genuinely help.

    I would like to think that allies genuinely are there to support and help in whatever way that it can. And, would not do anything intentional to hurt or betray you.

    I'm curious as to why you might see allies as being potentially dangerous and willing to betray? Can to comment?

    Midgie
  • Over a month ago fxgg030 wrote
    The question is, are we loyal to them or do we use them to promote our own selves? Allies can be dangerous sometimes, they can betray you or use you in the organization but I agree they are important element in the Business.
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