Career Success

Everwise Answers: Making the Most of a Working Relationship

By EverwiseJune 18, 2015

On the Everwise Answers forum, our community of experienced mentors give advice on the sorts of business cases, dilemmas and questions that our high-potential protégés frequently encounter. These are expert opinions. For more business best practices delivered right to your inbox, sign up here.

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Question: You’ve been given a big project to tackle with a teammate but are having a hard time working together. He’s controlling and overshadows you in meetings, leaving you nervous that it will look like you’re not pulling your weight. How can you better the relationship with your colleague and also be acknowledged for your work?

 

Eli has been assigned to work on an important project with a colleague, whom we’ll call Patrick. This should be an exciting opportunity, but from the start of their collaboration Eli has found it difficult to work with Patrick. Patrick feels the need to take control, overrides Eli’s input, and speaks over Eli during meetings. Personal issues aside, Eli is concerned that management will assume that Patrick is contributing more to the project. He doesn’t want to complain to his manager because he thinks it will seem childish, but isn’t sure what else to do. How can Eli improve his partnership and make sure he gets recognized for his work on the project? 

Here’s a summary of our mentors’ best advice from the discussion on the Everwise Answers forum.

1. Treat it as an Opportunity

Although Eli is frustrated with the situation, he should try and look at his relationship with Patrick in a new light. “Conflict at the work place should be taken positively as it gives one the opportunity to master more human skills to deal with situations and circumstances that are not favorable,” points out telecommunication strategist Munir Hasan.

While trying to stay patient and open minded, Eli can think of his struggle to work with Patrick as part of the assignment. Leadership coach Robert Cox suggests that Eli “treat this portion of the work assignment as part of [his] development. Learning how to deal with challenging people is often times the greatest lesson in working teams.”

2. Clear the Air

Several mentors recommend that Eli approach Patrick about how he’s feeling. As equal partners who were both selected for the project, Eli should feel comfortable voicing his concern.

“Eli should schedule a one-on-one with Patrick in a setting outside the office. Eli needs to communicate his feelings to Patrick. Clearing the air can lead to a better relationship,” counsels Ecommerce expert Carol Skarlat.

During this conversation it’s important that Eli stays positive and be open to what Patrick has to say. “Address your issue with him in a respectful manner and try and see if you can build a better partnership with him. Listen to his responses clearly and watch his behavior to see if he truly is trying to fold you into the project,” recommends technology leader Kenneth Robb.

Eli may discover that Patrick doesn’t realize the impact of his own actions. “Eli needs to let him know what he (Patrick) is doing and how that is affecting Eli’s ability to collaborate on the project. Patrick may not even be aware that his actions are having such an adverse impact on Eli’s ability to participate,” advises HR specialist Tim Sparks.

Sharing his feelings with Patrick could open the door for a new working relationship.

3. Divide Responsibilities Based on Skills

Once Eli has opened up communication with Patrick, the two should be clear about their roles, how each is contributing to the project and their decision making power. “One of the most important things Eli can do is to ensure there is a clear delineation of responsibility for tasks associated with the project,” suggests project manager David Zweier.

Healthcare and IT expert, Dave Rice recommends breaking the discussion into two parts. “Have a discussion with Patrick regarding both player’s expectations of the project — both at the macro (e.g., what each hopes to achieve from the project, expectations of one another, roles and responsibilities, etc.), and at the micro level (e.g., who’s responsible for what task).”

When deciding roles, it’s important to take into account each of their skills. As IT consultant Anya Yudin-Baehrle councils, “step back and understand what each of you brings to the table, what each of your strengths and weaknesses are and then build your accountability matrix, your partnership based on that. As in any partnership, it is important to do this together, openly and collaboratively. Based on how the roles shape up – direct your activities and support each other.”

4. Increase Your Added Value

In addition to trying to improve his relationship with Patrick, Eli should concentrate on the work itself and its effect on the business. “Focus only on what’s best for the project and the company,” insists IT businessman Gagan Mehra.

By doing an amazing job with his tasks, or as socially conscious consultant Sylvana Rochet puts it, “becoming stellar at what you do,” Eli is sure to catch management’s attention. “Focus on doing the best that you can on the project and produce the highest levels of deliverables that you’re supposed to produce and you will get noticed,” councils computer software specialist Arun Anur.

To increase his chances of being recognized, Eli should do his best to try and be given a high-profile part of the project. “Eli should aim to get a piece of the project that not only gives satisfaction to Eli but also is significant for the project’s completion,” says sales strategist Suryanarayan Kasichainula.

Choosing areas that Patrick overlooked is a great way that Eli can add value to the project and improve his visibility. “Focus on areas where Pat could not spend time or wasn’t able to work on so that Eli can prove his added value to the project and make Pat realize his worth. Volunteer to carry some of the critical issues of the project and create constructive and positive noise about the same so that not only Eli draws attention from Pat but also all others in the system,” suggests payment solutions specialist Ravi Sankar Vaddi.

Eli may not be as loud as Patrick has been, but can gain recognition by producing exceptional work.

5. Be Assertive

Now it’s time for Eli to step up his game. “It sounds like Eli needs to be a bit quicker on his feet,” points out healthcare and IT expert Dave Rice. He will have to learn to take the lead and counter Patrick.

A great way for Eli to feel more comfortable doing so is “to be more assertive and competitive by doing his homework better regarding the project progress,” outlines HR expert Kushal Banerjee. “Knowledge coupled with experience makes one more confident and therefore feel less intimidated by Patrick that in turn will also help him add valuable rejoinders after Patrick, which throws new ideas and solutions into the discussions.”

Eli should find some comfort in the fact that management chose him for the project, but he can’t forget that he is in charge of his own career development – he can’t just take the back seat.

6. Get Others Involved

An alternative to working it out with Patrick and focusing on the project is to enlist help. Leadership coach Robert Cox suggests “finding some allies who can help you mitigate the impact of this other person on the team. Sometimes this may be other team members. Sometimes a boss. Sometimes another co-worker who is familiar with their style who can help you with some strategies to pre-empt or deal with the issues you are facing.”

Going forward, Eli could also include management more thoroughly in the project by outlining each partner’s tasks and setting up reviews with their supervisor. “Create a detailed project plan that would describe steps and checkpoints with the manager to get to the ‘perfect’ presentation. The plan would list all the different tasks to get to each checkpoint and the owner of the task. I would then have Eli and Patrick present to their manager to get approval/buy-in on: the process, the deliverables, the timeline and the tasks allocated between Eli and Patrick,” says startup specialist Olivier Gachot.

However if, after several attempts to make it work, Eli continues to struggle with Patrick, he should go to management and ask for help. “If Patrick takes a cavalier approach and continues to squeeze Eli out of the process, I would then suggest that Eli go to the project manager and relate the situation. Tell them what he has attempted to do to rectify the problem and ask for advice on how to proceed next,” recommends HR specialist Tim Sparks.

If necessary, Eli should bring his project’s issues to management’s attention to further discuss possible solutions.

Resources

Thanks to the Everwise mentors for their ideas, and to all the others who shared their recommendations on the forum.

The Mentors

Thanks to the Everwise mentors for their ideas, and to all the others who shared their recommendations on the forum.

  • Munir Hasan (Bangladesh) Chief Technology Architect at Grameenphone Ltd, expert in telecommunications and strategy
  • Robert Cox (Pennsylvania)Counselor at SCORE, expert in coaching and leadership development
  • Carol Skarlat (Illinois) CTO at Vapor 4 Life Holdings, LLC, expert in Ecommerce and information technology
  • Kenneth Robb (Pennsylvania) CTO at fi360, expert in technology leadership and overall systems architecture and strategy
  • Tim Sparks (North Carolina) HR Manager at Transamerica Life Insurance Company, expert in human resources and employee training and development
  • David Zweier (New York) Project Management Consultant at KPMG US, expert in engineering and client-facing project management
  • Dave Rice (Pennsylvania) Adjunct Professor at West Chester and Temple University, expert in the health care industry and information technology
  • Anya Yudin-Baehrle (California) Managing Consultant at The CXOs, expert in information technology and scalable solution delivery
  • Gagan Mehra (California) Product Marketing and Research at Software AG, expert in big data and information technology business
  • Sylvana Rochet (New York) founder and consultant at TheInsightfulExecutive.com, expert in developing the holistic intelligence of socially conscious leaders and companies
  • Arun Anur (California) Senior Vice President at Yodlee, expert in computer software and industrial engineering
  • Suryanarayan Kasichainula (India) sales leader, expert in sales strategy development and computer software
  • Ravi Sankar Vaddi (India) Vice President of Operations at TATA Communications Payment Solutions Ltd, expert in telecommunications, payment solutions and general management operations
  • Kushal Banerjee (India) Founding Partner at Value Consultancy Services, expert in strategic and tactical human resources
  • Olivier Gachot (California) Chief Sales Officer at Capriza, expert in start-ups, enterprise software and sales management
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