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Designing Your Alliances



Each of us is different, one from the other, even amongst those reading this blog. Some subtly, some less so. It’s the nature of differences that allows both harmony and chaos to co-exist. Simply, put, and as Sinatra put it, that’s life. And it’s all good because as long as the chaos doesn’t spiral downwards and completely out of control, we’re thriving.


Talking about differences can be one of those brave or difficult conversations. In this moment, we will attempt to make it fun and engaging. Without projecting that conflict will ensue, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of a “Design Alliance”. A design alliance is a structural container for a relationship or, in this case, a group of people. The design alliance helps to articulate two essential procedures and norms for maintaining respectful dialogue.


  1. Creating atmosphere: This is the space or environment that the participants want to create. The advantage of designing an atmosphere is that if the circumstances change, the project milestones shift, or the actors change, the atmosphere we have created is maintained.

  2. Sharing responsibility: What can each of us be counted on to do? What is each person’s part in creating the experience they want.


To create the alliance, it is useful to ask those who are involved, whether it be in a relationship, a team or a group of any kind, a few probing questions. The idea is to hear how others approach these questions as well as to arrive at a shared atmosphere and individual sense of responsibility.


Consider these:

  • For the time that we are together, what is the atmosphere that you want to create? How do you want it to feel (empowering, supportive, spacious, confrontational, collaborative)?

  • What would it take for this group today to flourish, to inspire, to grow?

  • Finally, what will you count on/rely on from each other? For instance you can count on me to shine the light on the essence of Diversity & Inclusion strategies.).

A design alliance helps to encourage trust between people. Not only that. It addresses the social unit (relationship, group, and so on) as an entity in its own right. This social being is both separate and connected to the people that it includes. This social being is a system. Building awareness around social units as systems can be humbling. Well, it has been for me, as over time, I’ve realized that my own needs are smaller than the needs of the system.


Once you have established a design alliance, you can begin the conversation knowing that you have each other’s support and backs. I’m curious to hear your experience in working with design alliances. If you’d like support in how to design alliances and what to do with the outcomes of them, contact me at margot@margothovey.com

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD