“What’s so hard about partnering? Companies do it all the time.”

“‘Collaboration’ is just a consulting buzzword for working together and getting along.”

“If alliances are everywhere, then every manager must know how to manage them.”

We hear statements like these all the time from people who have not actually worked in the trenches to overcome the challenges that arise when two or more companies must align around critical go-to-market decisions, or agree on how to interpret data from a clinical trial that falls into a gray area. Or faced the problem of working with the executive who constantly telegraphs to the partner that the partner’s people don’t know what they’re doing.

Everyone may be doing it, but not everyone knows how to do it.

The Collaborative Challenge:
Conceptually Simple, Operationally Complex

Yes, partnering and collaboration are conceptually simple. Two or more organizations come together to pool resources, share risk, and do something faster, cheaper, and better than they could have done it themselves—if they could have done it at all. “Collaboration? Plan together, share some information, build a relationship, and develop trust. Sure, we know how to do that.”

If it’s so easy that anyone can do it, then why are the following also true?

  • On average, at least 50 percent of alliances fail to achieve their objectives.
  • According to the 2012 IBM CEO study, “collaboration is the number-one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical.”
  • The Thomson Companies have found phase III cycle times on collaborative pharmaceutical studies are more than 20 percent slower than self-originated studies, adding five months to the development process.

The complexity and boundary crossing that come from collaborating with external parties require competencies, processes, policies, and tools that aren’t required when working within the confines of a single enterprise. Both the collaboration—negotiating, clarifying, coordinating, leveraging, communicating, trust building—and the work of the collaboration—the project, the customer solution, the research—must be managed. Sometimes these two needs are in conflict.

At The Rhythm of Business we take the approach that everyone working on an alliance team—and in many companies today that is nearly everyone—has to know how to collaborate with an external party, as well as with others within their own company. That doesn’t mean everyone has to know how to manage an alliance. That’s a specialized role and ability requiring a broad set of skills and competencies, backed up by processes, tools, and an organizational culture that is supportive of partnering. While it may appear simple on one level, it is anything but—especially when companies depend on alliances and partnering for their success.

  • Collaborative Business Specialists
  • A Business Imperative
  • Enterprise Capability