Collaboration, more than ever, is the way that business gets done between companies, between teams and between individuals.
Collaborative business relationships
At the more strategic end of life, the BS11000 standard for collaborative business relationships is a very accessible tool. When it emerged in 2010, I was delighted to find it brimming with common-sense. It codifies much of what I had come to believe was good practice for successful collaboration.
If you’re just starting out on the journey, and want to build collaboration without the heavyweight standard, then I use a simpler Strategy-Culture-Arrangements-Performance model that captures the key elements.
Whatever collaboration framework you use, the relationship is most likely to prosper or perish as a result of the critical competencies and behaviours.
Critical behaviours for collaboration
There are three obvious behaviours that I want to mention briefly because they are essential for collaboration and so much more.
- Listening – don’t just listen but demonstrate you are listening with eye contact, note taking and by summarising what you heard.
- Communicating effectively – be open, honest, check for understanding with your audience and ask for feedback.
- Asking questions constructively – be genuinely curious and focus on mutual benefit more than your own agenda.
From experience there are some less obvious behaviours I think make a real difference to the quality of the collaboration.
Share information freely
Sharing is an essential trust builder in collaboration. It may feel risky, especially in organisations that would not normally disclose commercial information or share intellectual property, but that’s the point. The free flow of information blows apart assumptions and feeds innovation so that new and different things happen.
Enjoy and value difference
For most people this demands a mind-set change. Engage in a relentless search for different points of view. Considering all the different opinions will take longer and may be uncomfortable when you uncover perspectives that differ from your own. However, it ensures those differences don’t catch you out later.
Actively learn from experience
Many collaborations begin with a blank sheet as far as shared experience is concerned. That’s one reason why this should be part of everyone’s role. Don’t accept ‘lame’ lessons learned sessions that just go through the motions. Seeking improvements, sharing the knowledge, giving recognition to those who do it well are the visible good habits of successful collaborators.
In your own organisation, who is accountable for what will generally be clear. When you bring two or more businesses together in a framework or project things can get a little blurry. Clinging to your routine, safe accountabilities can be a barrier. They need to be re-invented for the collaboration. Empower others and be prepared to take responsibility yourself for actions and decisions that need to be made.
I hope you’ll be able to put these tips into practise. If you’re in a collaborative business relationship that would benefit from further input, contact me for an informal 1-2-1 discussion about how to make collaboration work for you.