Recently I received a question about how to deal with so-called non-governance calls during a partner discussion. In the example provided, there was an issue in an alliance in which an impatient senior executive decided to reach out to an old friend working at the alliance partner. His intention was to apply pressure from the top to get things solved faster. Meanwhile the alliance team, (unaware of what was going on), was working to solve the issue. So, the big question was how would this be perceived by the alliance partner and on the contrary, would it create a headwind instead of a tailwind in the ongoing discussions?

I do believe that non-governance calls can be helpful when orchestrated correctly – but in this case, it didn’t happen. What was described to me, was a situation where the executive took his own decision to reach out and that can be quite disturbing! This action could have been perceived as undermining, as the alliance team might have felt that their authority or confidence was being restricted. Also, it would  potentially erode trust between the partners and that could have led to long-term implications to the health of the alliance.  Furthermore, it might have led to dependence on specific individual relationships, rather than building robust, institutional ties.

However, when non-governance calls are organised in the correct manner they can be beneficial.  Usually, it means that the alliance team must reach out to the executive and brief them carefully about what needs to be communicated.  The executive needs to proactively reach out to the alliance team first, to offer help through tapping into his/her own friendly relationships at the partner organisation.  Communication should only be granted after consulting with and getting agreement from the alliance team.  Then, there’s every reason to believe that the overall relationship and the alliance will strengthen, rather than end up harmed.

The situation I described was a difficult one and the biggest challenge may have been the fact that the non-governance communication had already taken place. As a result, the alliance manager involved probably needed to take some corrective actions. Someone in the alliance team needed to talk to this executive, to explain the bigger picture and the rules of non-governance communication to ensure that it would never happen again. In turn, the executive needed to understand that his relationships can be very helpful when organised correctly, as part of the bigger alliance communication and orchestration. Simultaneously, the alliance team likely had to do some work to rebuild trust with the partner to ensure that they had the confidence to understand that it was just a one-time occurrence.

I’m curious: how would you handle such a situation?

What I’ve Been Reading: The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life” * by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander

Why Is It Relevant? This book highlights many aspects of, positive and possible, personal leadership, illustrated with many inspiring examples of Benjamin’s work in orchestrating orchestras and coaching musicians.