Build your reputation as a collaborator and earn trust from your peers

Most managers are judged by how they work across functions, not just how they manage their own team. Since organizations have gotten more complex, “matrix” structures and “cross-functional teams” have become the norm. For example, in a matrix structure, you may report to one boss (solid line) but you may also have one or more “dotted line” relationships. These dotted lines represent people to whom you are responsible for delivering a service or product. They have influence over you and your future. In addition, your peer managers, and colleagues at multiple levels, likely depend upon you as a partner.
So, your effectiveness is, in large part, determined by how well you collaborate and “play well with others.” Your relationship with your peers is one that must be managed as well as the relationship you have with your boss. Since you both have little, if any, direct authority over one another, the roles and responsibilities can present land mines.
Here is a quick checklist of how to build your reputation as a collaborator and earn trust from your peers:
  • Talk about your peers’ successes in public but iron out conflicts in private. Calling out a colleague in public, or talking negatively about another department in a meeting will only make you look mean and vindictive…not to mention politically stupid.
  • Ask your colleagues what they need from you-- and your department-- and then deliver on what you promise. Don’t over commit. It’s better to be honest about what you can’t get done.
  • When negotiating for resources, focus on the mutual purpose you all share and explore each of your respective needs. If your peers are fighting over head count and budget, stay focused on what is best for the organization and needs, not wants. If someone else’s needs obviously trump your own, concede without making it personal.
  • When you disagree with a peer’s action or a decision, go down “The Journey of Intentions,” so you understand their rationale first. Rather than jumping in to tell the person why their way is flawed, ask the person to explain their intentions behind their actions. You will discover where the two of you differ in your logic, so you both can problem solve together.
  • Use social and business events to get to know peers you should be closer to. Don’t just seek out peers you already know well. Expanding your internal network will pay dividends as your responsibilities grow.
  • Offer to help a peer with information or resources, even when you don’t stand to gain anything in return. This unselfish help will earn you respect and trust. It will also advance the goals of the organization—something that gets noticed by senior leaders.
  • Return emails and voice mails within a reasonable amount of time. I often hear about a busy leader who blows off his or her peers because they don’t think their issues have priority. Your peers will resent it.
  • Treat your peers’ direct reports with the same respect you reserve for your peer. They will compare notes and you won’t look good. No matter how well you treat the manager, he or she will be angry if you don’t treat their people well.
  • If you are hearing a lot of negative buzz about your peer, consider giving that person feedback and advice in a caring way. If you have a degree of trust and respect between you, he or she will probably appreciate your insights and honesty.
  • Avoid gossiping about colleagues, even to close peers. If you talk about others, they’ll fear you’ll talk about them.
  • Don’t blame other departments. Take the high road and own up to what you can do to shoulder your department’s contribution to the problem. If you point fingers at other departments, it sets a negative example for your employees and, over time, you will lose their respect.
  • If you have a problem with one of your peers’ employees, go to the peer first, before escalating the issue up the chain. If you go up the ladder, without giving them the courtesy of handling it themselves, they will resent being exposed to upper management.
  • Don’t copy a wide circle of people on a long email chain, in order to expose a peer, or get other people on your side. Instead of making your peer look bad, you will look vindictive and it will cause others to limit what they say to you. It will also destroy trust.
  • If you are in a heated disagreement in a meeting, ask your peer to take the issue off line and discuss it in private. The whole room will be uncomfortable until you do, and they will avoid telling you what they really think, for fear of getting into a wrestling match with you in public.
  • Don’t do all the talking. Solicit input from peers and really listen to what they have to say. If you have strong opinions, offer them last, after probing what others think.
  • Don’t brag about your accomplishments, your team’s successes or your personal life. Rather than creating admiration among your peers, you will turn them off and isolate yourself. Rather than look successful, you will look insecure. A little humility goes a long way.
  • Don’t return emails or take calls in meetings. If you are with a peer, and your phone rings, don’t answer it. Show them that they are more important.
Pay attention to your relationship with your peers. It can mean more as you move up the ladder than you may think.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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