Collaboration: ‘over the counter’ style

There is no shortage of people who say they want to collaborate.   Nor is there any shortage of people professing they know how to do it well.  The slight problem is that a lot of collaboration talk is ‘over the counter’ grade quality.

harvard book on collaboration

There is increasing number of great books on collaboration. ROADMENDER highly recommends the HRB’s 10 Must Reads “On Collaboration”

Collaboration is a genuine business driver. A super-driver in fact.  More or less it is something that managers recognise, and to a certain degree consider as part of the overall mix of factors that make a business competitive.  With the notable increase in attention dedicated to the way collaboration works, there has been a corresponding increase of counter arguments cautioning against the pitfalls of collaboration.  Advocates of collaboration know that, when well-planned and supported by the right decision-makers, collaboration works.  Detractors tend to gravitate towards caution and an overly simplistic reading of collaboration strategy.  They feel that collaboration is mainly about relationships and trust, but ignore the finer points of strategy and governance that collaboration requires.

Anyone who has attempted collaboration can relate easily to the strategy and governance aspects.  Collaboration in business, especially between a number of agencies, is complex, demanding and fraught with risk. Precisely as it should be.

“Some managers show real interest in collaboration because they are serious about making their business perform better.”

All too often people get put off by the inherent complexity in any collaboration that matters. The kind of collaboration that actually produces impact.  Seeking to collaborate and not expecting a risk of failure is one major reason why it is tempting to look around for more simple collaborative arrangements.  The ones that I call ‘over the counter’ collaborative strategies.  They are easy to spot.  They tend to be full of promise but employ an overly simplistic narrative.  I am talking about collaboration that feels good and looks good, but does not require parties to change anything.

Strategic collaboration on the other hand is a well-crafted product.  It takes time and demands risk-taking.  Building that impact-driven approach requires that parties understand the risk, are willing to accept change and grasp the degree to which collaboration can be ‘positively disruptive’.  The core of good execution lies in the grounding of good thinking.  Collaboration thrives when it is embraced as a true competitive tool.  Crafting good collaboration is about parties investing in each other in a way that ensures the best capabilities of each party actually delivers increased performance, precisely because of the collaborative conditions.

All this amounts to one major concern in business: the cost of collaboration.  With a lack of expert focus on developing collaboration strategy, businesses rightfully need to be concerned about the potential costs associated with collaboration.  Measuring collaboration can be hard and comes the additional difficulty of managing it.  On the reverse side though, it means that before an enterprise can expect a real return from collaboration, it should invest in properly understanding it in the context of its own industry and marketplace.

I use one real-life test to gauge the degree of sophistication managers have about collaboration in order to deduce how likely they are to fall for a pale version of a good collaborative plan.  I ask people to tell me what they understand collaboration is.  If they have little to say after say 15 minutes of explaining their understanding, then I know they don’t see collaboration as a serious business driver.  In these cases I know the organisation is not ready to collaborate.  Some managers show real interest in collaboration because they are serious about making their business perform better.  They normally are the same managers who are keen to get past the point of labelling any kind of business partnership as collaboration.  That is always encouraging to see.