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Is your enterprise prepared for collaboration? (Guest Blog)

In the true spirit of collaboration, Roadmender is now a platform for sharing views, ideas and knowledge. This week we introduce our first guest blogger, Keith Bancroft, who shares his experience in respect to collaboration in the corporate and commercial environments.  One of Keith’s areas of specialty is ‘business readiness’.  In this article, Keith provides insights based on his experience with large scale collaborations.  While collaboration can offer a competitive advantage to a well thought out partnership, Keith’s experience reminds us that successful collaboration depends on doing your homework well and being prepared. 

Like many, one of my favourite quotes of all time is from the film A Few Good Men and the line Jack Nicolson delivers, “Truth? You can’t handle the truth!”.  The more I thought about these words, the more it became clear to me that they introduced the question, “Can organisations really handle some of their truths?” In other words, can they really handle some their  decisions, aspirations, targets or  growth strategies.?”

I guess my specific question is, “Do they really understand and can they begin to interpret what is necessary to evolve, grow and then be successful at implementing change?” These question(s) and their answers, I believe, are somewhat neglected at all levels when decisions are being made.

I have spent many years posing these kinds of questions to organisations in a number senior roles, however of late I haven’t heard of many of the these types of questions being asked or, worse still, struggling to find the answers.  Questions like, “Are we ready for this system?” or, “As a company, can we handle this type of change?” tend to be answered through a myriad of matrix and calculation processes with the hope that a solution determining which direction to take “pops out” at the end.

As God said to Noah, “Build an Ark and they will come”.  Well, the same could be said about organisations when implementing new systems and processes, although they often don’t achieve the take-up, resulting in no benefits being realised. My point is that the organisations were not ready to handle the change, and that they had failed by not asking the “Are we ready…?” or “Can we handle…?” questions in the first place, or possibly ignoring the fact that they were clearly unable to cope with amount of change required within the prescribed timeline.

In view of the topic, one area again where we need to ask this type of question is that of partnerships and collaborations; the questions being, “Are we ready to become a partner?”, “Are we ready to have a relationship(s)?” The questions are not hard and, if anything, should be very familiar particularly when we ask these same questions of ourselves in a personal setting.  It seems bizarre that we don’t often raise these questions in a business setting and, even when we do initiate this type of thinking, it seems to get “Lost in Translation” in the process (sorry, another film quote).

Over the years, I have been privileged to have managed a number partnerships and collaborations, in various shapes and sizes.  It feels like I have spent most of my professional life fostering partnerships and brokering collaborations as part of achieving successful outcomes.  I must say I have a lot of sympathy for marriage counsellors.

One of the key attributes in bringing about successful collaboration is removing the self-interest component from one’s thinking and seeing things from the other party(‘s) perspective. Having a “What’s in for them?” state of mind might seem straightforward enough for individuals, but the trick is convincing other power brokers to enter into this new world of yours and understanding that having a different approach is not something that transpires every day.

Even when you have done the hard yards in adopting this approach, it becomes very easy for people to slip back into a self-interest mindset. I’m not suggesting that the main focus shouldn’t be one’s own interest, I’m simply suggesting that, when taking the path of collaboration you concentrate and be aware of the outcome for all concerned. This type of approach is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s society.

An early example of this type of approach centres around the area of road safety. To set the scene, in the UK I was responsible for a number of revenue growth areas in a large, global systems integrator in the position of deploying information management capability to all the Police forces and Courts throughout England and Wales. Apart from managing all aspects of the delivery, one of my tasks was to collaborate with outside entities operating in this space from both private and public settings.

In setting up partnerships with these entities, we had to first explore and identify potential partners, taking into account our selection criteria and established relationships. Once we had determined likely candidates, we then went about gaining their trust. In order to achieve this we had to fully understand their criteria for partnering and whether they would meet ours; understanding whether they would become friend or foe in the customer’s perception and provide them with clear business rules.

We needed to be in a position to outline and manage benefits, risks, influences and relationships at all levels, ensuring transparency and accountability.  In other words, before we could even begin a conversation, we had to qualify what the partnership needed to look like and sign up to a professional code i.e. Rules of Engagement.

Again with the mantra of, “Are we ready to take on this kind of commitment and responsibility?”,  we could  establish the partnership(s).  This type of thinking had to be the focus of the relationship, whilst remaining mindful of the possible changes to their environment as well as ours. As you would expect, in any collaboration there has to be a contingency if something goes wrong; together with the understanding that the collaboration may or may not have a definitive timeline.

Parting is such sweet sorrow… As with the setup and management of the partnership, detaching also has to be considered. Like many courtships, typically the last thing on anyone’s mind whilst forming a relationship is parting, so again we have to ensure readiness for all eventualities.

I have spoken about collaborations from an external perspective, but the same principles should be applied for  internal settings; in fact they should be this  kind of mantra across every organisation, which I know in theory is true but in practice rarely gets brought into the equation.

A prime example of where we should adopt this approach is in the case of siloed environments where, although all are supposed to belong to the same organisation, in  reality  different departments often behave and operate similar to that of external providers. In fact in some cases, more value is gained  from external resources  than internal sources, which in itself is a whole new topic.

And guess what? Silos are not being broken down anytime soon.

The more we operate under the principles we have discussed, the more likely success will be achieved. Not too long ago I was talking to a senior executive of a large government ICT department that was struggling to build a solid partnership with their frontline business areas. The answer was quite straightforward; they simply were not ready for the partnership because they failed to ask themselves tough questions like, “Do we really understand our business and criteria for partnerships?”.

My last point is again taken from another one of my all-time favourite film quote which sees Michael Caine informing his fellow bank robbers they were “only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” … When seeking collaboration don’t invest or rely solely on the relationship because, like many relationships, they can often turn out not to be a match made in heaven.

Keith Bancroft is a strategist specialising in business readiness. Over the years, Keith has worked with a variety of large commercial enterprises in the UK, formulating initiatives for competitive growth. Keith is currently involved in collaboration with a number of business leaders who are translating this approach to the Australian market. Keith can be contacted at kbancroft@iinet.net.au

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