Simple question:

“Are we trying to do the same thing?” or “is there sufficient overlap in what we are trying to accomplish that we can effectively collaborate?”


Use the employee/employer as one example. Yes, there is tension around exactly what the remuneration will be, but the employer does not want to “take advantage” of the employee (a la unpaid internship) and the employee does not want to comprise the health of the organization by creating internal inequality or unjustly shifting risk from them to the organization.

The qualifiers may seem a bit holier-than-though. That said, maybe we assume that most employees would not want to work for a business whose model that includes taking on a series of unpaid interns to keep costs low. Can we further assume that a business does not want an employee who is so self-centred as to be unconcerned about the organizational and competitive impact of their remuneration?

This intersection of interests is the underpinning of collaborative negotiations. If there is a range of overlap, there may also be, as above, areas of alignment that become non-starters or deal breakers.

More examples:

The investor that wants to pull any extra money out of a company vs. a business-owner who wants to invest some of the extra in ongoing success. (Provided both are interested in “ongoing success,” there is a reasonable conversation about how much “extra” needs to be reinvested.)

Longer conversation:

There is often an area of compromise in philosophical nuances of DIRECTION. There is a role for probing the specifics (e.g. what range of ongoing reinvestment do we need to stay the course?), but at some point, there will need to be some mutual trust as to the shared journey.


Simple question:

“Are we playing by the same rules?” or “do we share an idea of how to behave in order to be successful?”

About RULES:

The word “rules” here is a stand in for some of the constraints that guide are behaviours. Some of these may sound like ethical proclamations, but these are less about being “the right way” of doing thing and more about “our way of doing things.”

Here we are identifying some of the choices that we have made to guide the manner in which we engage and collaborate with each other, as well as with those outside the organization. These may be statements that reflect values, guiding principles, do and don’ts or may simply be informal conventions that everybody just “gets.”

More examples:

Constraints may be supported or informed by external legislation of industry norms. A manufacturing company may take “Safety First” as an organizational mantra, but also be subject to rigorous safety audits.

There may be slogan-like statements that encourage or discourage certain behaviours. If, for example, a company adopts Bob Sutton’s “No Asshole” rule, they would decide whether or not to extend that from hiring new staff to taking on new clients, suppliers, etc. In a healthcare context, “patient focus,” may create a nuance that is not fully captured by “customer focus” or “human focus.”

Longer conversation:

If the area of DIRECTION demands a search for compromise, the RULES area is about sticking to a core concept. The turn of phrase: compromise your principles but not such that your only principle is compromise. Immovable constraints play a role in framing problems. YES, we want to achieve our goals, but, NO, we will not compromise the core values that define us.


Simple question:

“Are we looking at the same measures of success?” or “When we assess our performance (e.g. progress in our chosen DIRECTION and within our shared RULES), are we looking at common things?”


Although this is one of three distinct hashtags, these concepts are inextricably linked in the activities and performance of any organization. We are used to being results- and impact-focussed, and conversations in this realm try to probe and challenge the connection between key metrics and ongoing performance and success.

More examples:

In the area of financial results, this is where we draw distinctions between revenue and profitability, as well as between expenses and investments. All of these can be quantified in dollars, but alignment will depend on a similar understanding of what we are trying to accomplish and how we are going to do it.

  • Competitive advantage through rigorous cost control?
  • Market differentiation that allows sustained premium pricing?
  • Leadership positioning through investment for future success?
  • “Yes” to all three?

Other areas of an organization can be quantified as well. A customer service score is a stand in for a satisfied customer. A business can count on long-term success if it can continue to be profitable while satisfying customers. Metrics related to employee satisfaction follow a similar line of reason.

Longer conversation:

More than any other element, tangible and quantifiable METRICS can shape a system of activity. Follow the money is one turn of phrase that comes to mind. By “money,” do we mean profits, revenue, earnings per share. Too often the engineering of an environment (and compromise in both DIRECTION and RULES) comes from strict adherence to METRICS that are inconsistent with our overall success.

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