Is your organization a family or a room of free agents? Traditionally, there have only been two main ways to describe the relationship between employees and employers. But now author, investor, and consultant Chris Yeh wants to add another category: Alliance.

As opposed to a family-like environment where every employee feels like they will be at the company forever, an Alliance realizes that it is nearly impossible for an employee to spend his or her entire career with one company in this day and age and instead encourages workers to expand and try new things. Just like it is in war or strategy, an Alliance is a mutually beneficial agreement that encourages both parties to work towards the same goal, in this case between employee and employer.

Creating an Alliance in an organization may seem like a big change, but it is one that Yeh says can benefit employees and the bottom line when done correctly. To build an Alliance, you need to start with the big items first. Consider this: You can fill a container with big rocks and pour sand around it, but you can't pour sand in a container first and then fit the big rocks in the same space. It's the same thing with organizing an alliance--if you put the big rocks and most important issues in first, you can fit the smaller issues and ideas around it.

When forming an alliance, there are three main questions an employee needs to know:

  • What is the mission?
  • What's in it for the employee?
  • What does the company gain?

To answer those questions, Alliances are organized by Tours of Duty. Just like in the military, where officers have specific assignments and timetables for their missions, employees in an organization also have specific missions to work on with the company, such as a product launch or new market research. When establishing a Tour of Duty, both the employee and the employer should be open about what is in it for each side. A successful Tour of Duty will transform both the employee's career by giving him or her a useful skill or contact, and it will transform the company by creating something new, such as a product or market. Considering that most Millennials change employers every 2-3 years, the Tour of Duty model fits right into their timetables.

Tours of Duty work to increase employee engagement. Just because an employee is on a Tour of Duty doesn't mean they are done at the company once the project is done. Rather, it provides a natural time to revisit the relationship and discuss if there is a need to continue. By continually reevaluating how an employee and employer can both benefit from the relationship, employees feel engaged and valued and organizations can have greater success. If after a Tour of Duty an employee feels they can better expand their career at a different organization, it creates a natural point to depart, rather than in a family atmosphere where people can feel disloyal and like they are abandoning ship if they ever dare leave for a new experience.

As Yeh says, "Making sure each employee understands their mission, what's in it for them, what's in it for the company, and revisiting that regularly to make sure it is still relevant is important no matter what business you're in"

Startups and organizations that are structured like families might seem like a great idea for employee engagement, but they are actually setting themselves up for a lack of trust and honesty. Inevitably, someone from the "family" will leave or need to be let go, and then the family runs the risk of being torn apart. If a boss considers himself to be the father figure in the company but knows deep down he will eventually have to fire someone, it creates dishonesty because the boss isn't keeping his commitment to keep the "family" together. And a lack of keeping commitments leads to a lack of trust, which can cause an entire workplace to crumble.

Still, not every organization believes in the Alliance mentality. Some organizations like Centro and Barry-Wehmiller couldn't imagine thinking of their employees as anything but family. What do you think? Does the Alliance model make sense for your organization or is the family model a better fit? Perhaps you have something in between?