The Keys to the “Collaboration Kingdom”

We believe that building powerful partnerships are the “keys to the kingdom” when consultants work with clients and customers. Before we can unlock the kingdom gates, however, we need to beware of armed guards, in the form of unconscious perspectives, that often prevent collaborative business relationships. Let’s look at how specific worldviews about collaboration shape relationships.

People hold three basic macro perspectives that determine how they see their “tribe” and how they handle relationships with other tribes. The first and the least effective is “egocentric.” People who play from this angle care mostly about themselves and their behaviors are designed to achieve their goals and get what they want with little regard for the needs of others. You might say that they’re allergic to working closely with others unless those relationships help them meet their own specific goals. These people are fairly rare in professional business environments, however we’ve all met some along the way and they’re very difficult to partner with.

The second worldview and by far the most common in business environments is “ethnocentric.” People who come from this perspective play for “me and mine.” They look out for the best interests of their tribe, whomever they perceive that tribe to be. This may include their team, their work-group, their organization, or even their entire company. They naturally collaborate with those inside their tribe and compete with those outside the tribe. If your clients hold this perspective and perceive you to be outside of their tribe, building trust will take time, skill and energy.

When ethnocentric clients are operating from this perspective, they exhibit some predictable behaviors in addition to competing with those outside their tribe. They protect information rather than openly sharing it and protect their resources. On a services engagement, they may limit what they’re willing to tell you about their business and try to narrow your focus to only their tactics and their technology. They may want to restrict your access to their systems, and protect their resources by limiting training time with your software. As you build trust over time and move towards a truly collaborative relationship with them they’ll be much more willing to ease up on these limitations, since they now see you as more of an opportunity than a threat.

The third worldview is rare and powerful in the business environment. People who hold the “purpose-centric” perspective play for “all of us.” They see the world expansively and are generous about who they include in their tribe. In the business environment they will see the tribe as the entire company and all trusted partners in the ecosystem around the company, including their clients, vendors and alliance partners. People who see the world this way trust more readily and will give others the benefit of the doubt. This way of behaving does engender more risk, however it offers far more reward! If you are lucky enough to be working with a client who holds this perspective, it’s critical that you play the same way with them so that both of you can reap the rewards of a deep, trusting powerful partnership. If you’re working with an ethnocentric client, your goal is to lead them to a purpose-centric partnership through modeling key behaviors.

One of our favorite clients is a very purpose-centric guy. Steve has worked directly with this client at six different organizations over the last fifteen years and they have each become true powerful partners with us. When our client needs some urgent advice, coaching or counsel, Steve makes it a priority to be available to him regardless of what else is going on. He doesn’t bill him for the time he gives, and offers his expertise and counsel freely, knowing that this is truly a win-win relationship. When Steve has asked the client for references, testimonials or even referrals, the client has freely offered them as well without any strings attached. He believes in our work and has hired us many times to deliver our Power of Partnership consulting/sales training, strategic alignment, conflict resolution and leadership team development when these services are needed in the organization that he runs. He never has us bid against a field of competitors because he knows we’ll deliver excellence every time at a fair price. We, in turn, are deeply motivated to get superior results for him and his team because we value the relationship so highly.

So, what do you do when your client is ethnocentric (playing for “me and mine”), rather than purpose-centric (playing for “all of us”)? The answer is you lead by modeling purpose-centric behaviors and implementing trust development strategies that are most effective in the situation you face.


Steve Vislisel and Marty Friedman are the co-authors of this series and the co-creators of the “Power of Partnership”, a dynamic, interactive training / coaching program for consultants and professional services pros.

They teach the specific principles and practices required to systematically create both great results and phenomenal customer experience in each client engagement.

They created this methodology for Accenture and have delivered it to over 10,000 services and consulting professionals in great organizations like E&Y, HP Software, Cisco, Visa, Bell Canada, Jive, Apptio and Lithium.

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