Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself competing for work with a common client? Meaning your customer isn’t choosing your or them– but both of you. And you find yourself constantly looking for ways to get a bigger share of the pie. What if instead of just competing, you also looked for opportunities for a bit of strategic collaboration?
A Competitive Turned Collaborators Success Story
My last role as a Fortune 15 executive was leading our 10,000 person outsourced function. I managed the strategic partnerships with the BPO call center companies who took many of customer service calls. What a fantastic study in the power of culture. We had 6 competing companies and dozens of contact centers, essentially doing the same work. Some were thriving, some were struggling.
We thought, what if we could bring these leaders together to talk about their common leadership challenges and share best practices?
We considered all the important issues before suggesting we bring all the senior operations leaders together for an event.
It started with buy-in. I called each senior leader and had a candid conversation about their willingness to have candid conversations. Then we set clear ground rules. No talk of pricing or anything that might be considered proprietary.
The collaboration centered around questions such as:
- How do you inspire call center reps to care deeply about customers?
- What’s the secret to finding time to coach when the queue’s backed up?
- How do you build better leadership in a young front-line team?
- How are you leveraging 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 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 take 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.
How about you?
Have you had a great experience collaborating? What made it work?
See Also: The Secret to Innovative Partnerships