Create a More Collaborative Leadership Culture with Peer One-on-One Conversations

Too many leaders work solo—and that's because their managers expect them to do so. However, these managers and leaders often need other leaders across the organization to deliver the necessary work. In that case, one-on-ones can help. These peer one-on-ones can help build trust, clear impediments across the organization, and create allies for change.

How One Set of Directors Used Peer One-on-Ones

Diane, a Software Engineering director, works for Acme. Acme has plenty of problems—mainly because everyone's multitasking on too much work. (The organization's WIP is too high.) The developers are supposed to deliver at least twice their capacity. No matter how she crunches the numbers, she can't make the project staffing work.

She's not the only one with this problem.

The Software Quality director, Steve, has the same problem. He's supposed to staff “all” the projects. He can't—not the way the projects need staffing.

Since neither of them can succeed with all this work, Diane asked Steve to meet one-on-one. She suspects the two of them can create a project portfolio to deliver their most important projects. She needs his agreement that he will work with her.

If Diane and Steve can agree on what's essential and finish that work, everyone can win. The organization will benefit from finished work, which means increased revenue. The teams will gain from focusing on just one project at a time. And she and Steve—and their fellow directors—will gain because they can collaborate to eliminate the organizational impediments the teams encounter.

Otherwise, Diane fears Acme will lose customers and revenue because everything will take longer.

Diane wrote an email with the subject line: “Rationalize our work across Engineering.” In it, she described her concerns and asked for a 30-minute meeting to explore alternatives and finish the essential work.

Steve took a couple of days to respond. He responded, “Yes, and I think it will take longer, so I'll book an hour.”

Peer One-on-Ones Require a Different Agenda

Diane created this agenda:

  1. Create a human connection with a quick checkin. (You might not need this reminder. I do, because I'm too willing to jump right into the problem.)
  2. Describe the problem from her perspective and elicit Steve's perspective. Include why this matters and to whom. (Organization, teams, customers.)
  3. Generate options for the WIP.
  4. See if they could agree on any of those options.
  5. If so, discuss how to gain agreement from their peers.
  6. Finally, present their agreement to their managers and explain when the directors would decide again.

Even though they took the entire hour to generate options for managing all the work in progress, they did not agree on one option. They decided to consider the problem for a few days and then meet again.

Peer One-on-One Frequency Changes

Diane and Steve met twice weekly for the first couple of weeks. They also met with their peers for the next couple of weeks. Those weeks were quite meeting-heavy, but the directors were learning to trust each other. That takes time.

Once the directors trusted each other, they were able to solve cross-organizational problems. At the start, they still used one-on-one conversations. After a couple of months, they worked as a cohort.

Once the directors had proven—to themselves—that they could work together, they started to work as a change artist team.

Peer one-on-ones helped the directors move from individual work to working as a team for an overarching goal.

Peer One-on-Ones Build Trust, Solve Organizational Problems, and Create Allies

Your organization might not encourage management or leadership cohorts to collaborate across teams, departments, or the organization. But you can always have a peer one-on-one—regardless of your leadership level.

Here are signals that you might need a peer one-on-one:

  • You and at least one peer share a specific problem.
  • Even if your peers don't share your problem, you need cooperation or collaboration from others to solve your problem. (If you're a program manager, you've probably experienced this.)
  • Changing something about how the organization works will benefit everyone.

In this example, Diane, Steve, and their peers managed the project portfolio. They reduced the organizational and team WIP for everyone's benefit.

As they solved this problem, they created allies across the organization. Those alliances helped them address other issues later.

Leadership Requires Collaboration

Managers need one-on-ones with the people they lead and serve. However, very few organizational leaders can work alone. Consider how one-on-ones might aid you in accomplishing your work. Use those one-on-ones to build trust, help you solve problems, and create organizational allies. As a result, you'll create a more collaborative culture.

(This newsletter touches on topics in Manage Your Project Portfolio and all three of the Modern Management Made Easy books.)


Learn with Johanna

The Q4 2022 writing workshop is full and proceeding nicely. Feel free to add yourself to the email list if you think you want to take that workshop in the future.

I'm also considering offering public management workshops. Up until now, I've only offered them as private in-house workshops. If you're interested in public management workshops, take a look at that page and add yourself to the email list.

I'm leading a session at the Leading Complexity series of masterclasses: Modern Management: Position Yourself to Take Advantage of Complexity. Yes, it's about the ideas in the Modern Management books, but you'll recognize many of the ideas. Use this coupon for a 20% discount: ROTHMANFRIEND20.


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© 2022 Johanna Rothman

Pragmatic Manager: Vol 19, #10, ISSN: 2164-1196

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