By Lauren Burnhill, @LaurenOPV
What’s a frolleague? A frolleague is a friend who is also a colleague. Different than a “work friend”, i.e. someone you get along with in your current job, a frolleague is someone in your industry whom you’ve worked with before and with whom you remain in friendly contact.
I like the sound of the word “frolleague”. Indeed, I relish working with colleagues who have remained friends across many jobs and life changes. We have a shared history and established lines of communication. We know each other’s work habits, strengths and weaknesses.
Working with frolleagues can offer high productivity and innovation precisely because we know each others skills, experience, work styles etc. The flip side is that it’s too easy to make assumptions in trust-based relationships. When starting a new collaboration, we should go through the same kind of set-up process with frolleagues as we would with our “generic” colleagues.
Yes, because there is trust, some things do, or at least should, go without saying. Nevertheless, good governance and common sense both suggest that it’s a good idea to say them anyway. Clarity is very calming — and good for productivity. I can’t tell you how often I’ll start a frolleague collaboration with the phrase “It goes without saying, but just to be clear…”
Dealing with conflicts of interest is a common governance challenge, especially in microfinance and impact investment where so many people have multiple types and layers of overlapping roles and responsibilities. If you treat your frolleague as a friend, are you discriminating against other colleagues? If so, do you go silent, or raise the issue and express the truth. For example “I want to pick your proposal, but if someone else knocks it out of the park…. well, I hope we’ll get to work together on a different project soon”. Or, a personal favorite, “Such-and-such company has asked me to advise them. I’ve not agreed to anything yet and I’m sharing my unbiased views today, but if I take the contract, there’s a potential conflict of which we need to be aware”.
Some believe it’s preferable to treat everyone alike, regardless of pre-existing relationships or potential synergies. If you treat friends and strangers in exactly the same manner, no one will accuse you of favoritism, but might you be leaving something on the table? Me, I fall into the “disclose and manage” camp when it comes to potential conflicts of interest with frolleagues. After all, one person’s conflict of interest might be another’s synergy.