Whose side are you on

My daughter was tested twice this week on her scientific knowledge.

Over the weekend she was part of a team that competed in a Science Olympiad. She also had her final exam for her first semester.

The difference is striking. She studied hard for her science exam and did well but she’s talked non-stop about the competition. As she and her teammates rode the bus home they talked about what they needed to work on for next time. They identified areas of weakness and identified teachers and other resources to help address them.

I’m sure there are many differences between the two situations but one of them is the relationship between the students and the teachers. In the competition, the students and the teachers are on the same side. They are working together to master material that will be tested by some third party.

I struggled with this (and think I mostly succeeded) as a math teacher. The students know that this person teaching them is also the person creating the test and grading the test – how could that teacher possibly be on their side?

And yet I was. I defined "their side" as meaning that I was committed to them learning and falling in love with the material. If I could do that, then a decent grade was almost always assured.

I once worked in a restaurant where the owner explained to me that one of the secrets to his restaurant’s success was low staff turn over. In real terms, it cost him money. So even though he worked to train, evaluate, and manage the employees — he was on their side.

What about in your work? What does it mean for managers to be on the same side as the people they manage? How would your work and your customers benefit? Whose side are you on?

This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.