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Past/Future Orientation Environment: An Assessment
by Stephen M. Dent


How do you view your own work environment--your company's culture? Is it oriented toward the past or the future? Based on your best knowledge and your personal experience, where does your organization fall on each continuum below?

To get a broader view of your corporate culture--and to learn how other people in your company perceive it--forward this article to other individuals in your department or your company. Ask them to spend a few moments taking this assessment, then arrange to meet and talk about the results. Are people ready to partner, or do they need to further develop their partnering skills?

1. Win/Lose vs. Win/Win

A win/lose conflict resolution style (Past Orientation) creates losers. Losers are not happy, self-satisfied, or proud. They want to get even. A win/win conflict resolution and problem-solving style (Future Orientation) works toward achieving a mutually agreeable plan.

In terms of its conflict resolution style, is your organization closer to a Past Orientation or a Future Orientation?

Win/Lose Win/Win

2. Individual Performance vs. Teamwork

A team spirit requires a certain amount of trust among members (Future Orientation). Without trust and openness, teams cannot perform well. With no appreciable teamwork, an organization won't achieve potential synergies, nor will it encourage creativity and innovation (Past Orientation).

How would you rate your organization's ability to support the concept of teamwork?

Individual Performance Teamwork

3. Stagnation vs. Dynamism

Stagnation occurs when there is no infusion of new energy into the organization or relationship. In a closed organization with no partnerships (Past Orientation), change is undesirable and suppressed. Dynamism results from the infusion of new energy and ideas (Future Orientation), and it is essential if a business is to successfully change with the demands of its customers and markets.

How stagnant or dynamic is your organization's culture?

Stagnation Dynamism

4. Alienation vs. Collaboration

Organizations that isolate themselves cannot form partnerships with others. There is a lack of trust toward people both inside and outside the organization, which results in alienation (Past Orientation). Collaboration (Future Orientation), on the other hand, involves the give and take of information and a degree of self-disclosure, which results in building trust between people.

How would you rate your organization on the alienation vs. collaboration scale?

Alienation Collaboration

5. High Need for Control vs. Empowering Others

In order to form a partnership, we need to release some control over events. If an organization is intent in controlling every aspect of the partnership (Past Orientation), the partnership will fail. Every partnership must be mutually beneficial; therefore, both partners have to make sure they are benefiting. This does not mean domination of the partnership. Rather, it means empowering others so participants can work collaboratively toward a mutually satisfying result (Future Orientation).

How would you rate your organization on this scale?

High Need for Control Empowering Others

6. Making Decisions Based on Past Experiences vs. Negotiating a Plan and Agreeing on Outcomes

When organizations continue to make decisions based on past experiences, they limit themselves by not being open to new possibilities (Past Orientation). Companies wanting to form partnerships need to be willing to negotiate expectations and then hold people accountable for doing what they say they'll do (Future Orientation). If you continue to hear statements such as "They'll never do that" or "That's not possible," you probably work in an organization that has a Past Orientation.

How would you rate your organization?

Making Decisions Based
on Past Experience
Negotiating a Plan and Agreeing on Outcomes


The six continuums relate to the Six Partnering Attributes™. How did you rate your organization for each attribute?

  1. Win/Lose vs. Win/Win (Attribute: Win/Win Orientation)
  2. Individual Performance vs. Teamwork (Attribute: Ability to Trust)
  3. Stagnation vs. Dynamism (Attribute: Comfort with Change)
  4. Alienation vs. Collaboration (Attribute: Self-Disclosure and Feedback)
  5. High Need for Control vs. Empowering Others (Attribute: Comfort with Interdependence)
  6. Making Decisions Based on Past Experience vs. Negotiating a Plan and Agreeing on Outcomes (Attribute: Past/Future Orientation in decision making)

A rating of less than 3 on any continuum indicates that your organization is weak in that attribute. If your ratings for all 6 add up to less than 18, your company may have a culture based on a Past Orientation. A high overall score on this assessment indicates a strong partnering culture.

"Past/Future Orientation Environment: An Assessment" is adapted from "Increasing Your Future Orientation" workbook, © 2001 Partnership Continuum Inc. To order visit: .


The Author


Stephen M. Dent is founder of Partnership Continuum, Inc., a leadership coach, and author of books, automated online assessments, and other tools that build more effective relationships at or at +1.612.375.0323.

Many more articles in Partnering & Alliances in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Stephen M. Dent. All rights reserved.

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