Working “for” or “with”?

It usually takes time and some professional maturity before one even cares to notice how others (people and organisations) frame their working relationship. 

It takes time because the dominant paradigm implies that a working relationship of employment means that we work for people or organisations that pay us money in return for “work”. It is traditional, proven and tried, we accept it because we have grown in it and it has become the default relationship – convenient for some, but not necessarily productive for everyone.

theres_a_demon_about_400_clr_14496But at the end of the day, who cares? It’s not that important, right? It’s all about the contract, the pay, the workday, the assignment at hand…

Well, even though it’s not often explicitly stated – you may not find it in the contracts – you should soon be able to get the hints. Perhaps during a moment of crisis or triumph, during more relaxing or high-pressure times, through stories or informal interaction, it will eventually become obvious, that is, that you are (most likely) working for them (wofo)!

At that point it makes sense to ask yourself whether you are content  with this relationship or whether you would be happier (and more productive) working with (wowi) them!

The distinction is important, because it defines the dynamics of the relationship, the boundaries, the perspective which spills into and affects the essence of true, respectful and productive relationships. And it may take some self-awareness before you are able to make the “wofo vs wowi” distinction. But when that happens, you will be called to make a decision: continue to accommodate the wofo relationship or take the responsibility and the initiative to redefine and evolve the relationship into a wowo relationship.

“When you work with someone, you matter.
You aren’t controlled by people you work with, you’re included.” –

The incentive is clear, because it’s not that difficult to see how much more productive working relationships can be when they are framed as symbiotic wowi interdependencies rather than as sterile wofo dependencies. Once experienced, then the productivity gap becomes evident, and the choice obvious.

imageShould this be left up to the “boss” or the organisation to define? People with developed Effective Intelligence take control, even if at times they have allowed others to refer to a relationship as wofo, and may even have let some believe it was so, just to temporarily satisfy some of their petty power tactics or needs. But they do this only temporarily, until they are in a position to turn this around to a higher-level relationship, and to the benefit of both parties.

Here are some signals of obvious or hidden wofo relationships:

  • You report to someone whom you (or others) refer to as “your boss”.
  • The expression “work for me/us” is used (e.g. when introduced).
  • Departments, teams etc. have an “owner”: managers or team leaders refer to teams as “my team” (and others refer to the team as “their team”).
  • Managers say “come to my office” and sit behind their desk while assuming ridiculous power poses.
  • Managers may organize “celebration events” but won’t.(spontaneously) celebrate with “team members”.
  • You are referred to (and define yourself) as “employee”.
  • In your CV you indicate that you’ve “worked for company X”.

Here are some signals of wowi relationships:

  • Reporting lines exist, but hierarchy is relatively flat.
  • You report to someone, but your are not “owned” by anyone.
  • Manager refers to you as a colleague not as their employee.
  • The expression “work with me/us” is used.
  • Departments, teams etc. don’t have an “owner”: managers or team leaders refer to teams as “our department” or “our team”.
  • Managers say “let’s meet in my office” and they sit next to you.
  • You define yourself as an associate, contributor, or partner.
  • In your CV you use “worked with company X”.

Wofo relationships:

  • are based on old-school (management-centric) paradigms
  • are one-way “command and control” relationships
  • are based on dependency
  • are process and task oriented
  • are focused on the amount of work done or hours spent
  • invest in increase of resource throughput
  • are about the maximum exploitation of the produced results
  • exploit relationships
  • are plan- and process-oriented.

Wowi relationships:

  • are based on new-school (leadership-based) paradigms
  • are collaborative and two-way relationships
  • are based on symbiotic interdependencies
  • are based on co-creation
  • are purpose- and people-oriented
  • are focused on value creation
  • involve value sharing
  • nurture, and invest in long term relationships
  • focus more on purpose, people, pleasure, and socondarily on plans and processes.

IMG_0348By the powerful force of constructive influence, you have the power and the responsibility to transform unproductive and stifling relations and organizational structures into productive, synergistic and symbiotic value creation relationships, with a significant contribution to organizational, professional and personal growth.

“There is a lot you can do alone,
but there is only so much you can achieve by yourself.”


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