Collaboration: A 4 Step Process
Inter-company collaboration is now recognised to be a primary driver of competitiveness and performance. However the process of establishing and maintaining strong and fruitful collaboration between firms is not well understood and as a result most attempts to manufacture such associations fail.
The primary cause of failure is that facilitators perceive collaboration from a technical and/or mechanistic perspective. They examine how competencies and capabilities can be transferred between firms before trust and commitment, key determinants of strong and positive bonds between individuals and groups are created. In essence the human dimension is seen as peripheral rather than central.
To facilitate collaboration, trust and commitment must be developed first. That means that individuals and groups need to be given opportunities to meet for extended periods and for interaction and dialogue to be facilitated. As part of this process individuals need to be encouraged to spell out the values that underpin their business, their goals and aspirations and the competencies and capabilities they have and need. Only through such interaction and dialogue can potential collaborators come to an understanding of each other.
From these ‘human’ interactions scope is created for firms to examine the opportunities for collaboration in a more structured format. At this second stage firms need to undertake a critical evaluation of their firm, extending their own understanding of the competencies and capabilities they have and need. This check list can then be used as a basis for firms to compare comparative strengths and weaknesses and therefore begin the process of identifying specific areas where collaboration will be mutually beneficial. This is the third stage.
The process from here on is iterative. From an understanding of each firm and key individuals at the human level, tactical collaboration can be undertaken as a trial. Subsequently, as understanding between collaborators is enhanced and trust and commitment will deepen leading to deep pocket alliances that facilitate strategic alliances. This can be viewed as the fourth stage and will often require one-on-one coaching.
A program to facilitate collaboration is therefore a 4-step process.
- Initially interaction between major stakeholders is organised and a format provided that facilitates discussion pertaining to them and their organisation. This is semi-structured and facilitation is needed as a means by which interaction and dialogue is enhanced and not stifled.
- The second stage involves an in-depth self analysis which is provided as a structured format and which results in firms identifying their strengths and weaknesses as reflected in their competencies and capabilities.
- The third stage involves a comparison of this needs analysis, with firms sharing and comparing their self critique. Again this needs to be a semi-structured process with facilitators’ assisting firms identify areas where collaboration may be mutually beneficial.
- The final stage is very much a coaching stage where firms are supported in their endeavours to set up specific collaboration by trained facilitators who work one-on-one with firms. The extent of coaching will be dependant on the experience and skills of the collaborators.