Unlikely Collaboration: The Secret To Success

Trying to describe effective collaboration is a bit like describing true love. You know when you’re in it. It feels wonderful, but it’s hard to describe to anyone outside the relationship. And like love, you can get burned by sexy potential collaborators who don’t play straight.

Unfortunately, such scenarios leave scar tissue that scares many away from potentially amazing future collaboration. Much is lost when you’re afraid to connect. If you’ve been burned, it’s worth understanding why, and trying again.

A Collaboration Success Story

Last week we brought 2 dozen people from 6 competing companies together to discuss common leadership challenges. I contract with all of them to provide customer service. Staying very diligent to the right side of the law (no discussion of contracts, terms and conditions, or competitive secrets), we held a think tank on common leadership concerns.

  • How do you inspire call center reps to care deeply about customers?
  • How do you find time to coach and develop when the queue’s backed up?
  • How do you build better leadership in a young front-line team?
  • How do we leverage technology to communicate more effectively?
  • What can my team do to be more helpful as the “client?”

The passion in the room was palpable. As common frustrations surfaced, competitors shared their leadership best practices, followed by brainstorming and collective planning. Everyone was focused on getting better results and doing the right thing for the customer.

“What if we had a week where we all concentrated on developing our leaders around this difficult challenge.” “What if we you produced inspiring videos to reinforce the vision each month?” On the breaks, leaders would pull me aside and affirm the approach: “This is fantastic, it’s great to know it’s not just us; Everyone’s in the same boat; It’s awesome to collaborate on these challenges.” And my favorite: “No other client of ours ever does this, they should.”

What is True Collaboration?

What made this work? What’s missing when collaborations go South?

Collaboration works when:
  • Vision is bigger than ego
  • Everyone has something to gain
  • The mission is clearly defined
  • Parameters are established
  • Leadership is shared
  • No one keeps score
  • People play by established ground rules
  • Folks takes time to get to know one another as people
  • Strengths are leveraged
  • It’s okay to put on the brakes as needed
  • Dissent is encouraged and accepted
  • Contributions are recognized

12 Components Of Trusted Strategic Partnerships

“But how do you KNOW they’ll do it, if we don’t put it in the contract?” I looked at him assuredly, “because they told me they would.”

But what if they DON’T? “If they don’t do what they say, we’ve got much bigger problems than this metric. That would be a breach of our trusted partnership.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for writing great contracts. Over the last few years, I’ve learned the intricacies of this fine art. But I also know the minute you have to refer to the contract explicitly you’re in trouble.

To achieve results create deeply connected, transparent, mutually beneficial relationships.

What Makes A Partner Trustworthy?

The Trust Across America built a quantifiable business case for trust, aggregating data based on FACTS

  • Financial stability and strength
  • Accounting conservativeness
  • Corporate governance
  • Transparency
  • Sustainability

What was not included in the model was my favorite part of their crowdsourced book, Trust Inc: Strategies For Building Your Companies Assets, Be Thoughtful.

“If your company is serious about increasing trustworthiness, consider engaging all of your stakeholders in rich thoughtful conversations. Don’t approach them as constituencies to be maneuvered, managed or massaged. Instead, view them as vital contributors to a better organization by letting them into the conversation. To be a thoughtful company with a thoughtful strategy, trust for stakeholders must be thoughtful.”

When I spoke with Barbara she shared that leadership is “tough to measure.” But leadership and relationships will make or break a company’s success. Trust translates to contracts, winning the deal and new business.

As leader of a Strategic Partnership Channel (formerly known as the vendor management organization) I offer big, un-written, and un-articulated rules that work best in our strategic partnerships. These norms apply to both sides of the relationship. I start and end relationships based on trust.

12 Keys to Trusted Strategic Partnerships

  1. Really understand one another’s business
  2. Invest in connecting as human beings beyond the business role
  3. Know how you each make money
  4. Tell the truth (even when it’s awkward, embarrassing, or could cost you business)
  5. Don’t commit to more than you can do well (repeat this one 3 times)
  6. Don’t play games… EVER
  7. Don’t wine and dine… the best deals are done over chopsticks or a long walk
  8. Lose some battles, admit when you’re wrong
  9. Let logic prevail, even when contracts are on “your side”
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
  11. Think long-term
  12. Reward trusted partnerships with more business/effort

This list applies to business partnerships and just about any partnership you can think of. Please share your views.