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If they don’t seem friendly, they probably aren’t friendly

July 2, 2014

The concept of more collaborative relationships is certainly not new. Throughout my career, I have encountered many initiatives to agree a more balanced approach. Sometimes these are under the cover of an alliance or a partnership, or some other fine words that imply we are truly in this together.

And then the majority of those collaborative ventures fail. In many cases, they produce precisely zero benefit to either party.

So today, when I see all the collaborative models on display, I must admit to a certain skepticism. I don’t believe most of them will work. A few will – and these represent the anecdotes that keep the myth alive.

What is wrong? Quite simply, it is very hard for the leopard to change its spots. If an organization does not have collaboration in its DNA, it cannot sustain repetitive partnering. The underlying culture of adversarialism, lack of trust, protection of interests will generally dominate behavior. As the title says, if your counter-party has no history of being friendly, don’t think you are going to be the exception. Look elsewhere for that collaborative relationship.

  1. I don’t disagree that many so called ‘collaborative arrangements’ fall over and don’t deliver results. I don’t think this is the fault of the concept but rather a failure in execution. Just saying “I like you, you like me lets collaborate” is not going to lead to success. When the collaborative relationship is a result of a well defined rigorous process then it will deliver results as long as the process isn’t subject to short cuts. You have to work hard to make sure the arrangement is truly collaborative and outcomes based. If for example there is not a meeting of the minds around how the benefits should be shared the don’t kid yourself this arrangement isn’t likely to work. But if you can tick the boxes around trust, shared objectives, a focus on outcomes, clear measurements of the outcomes, a cost structure that benefits both parties and an agreed governance structure then a collaborative arrangement will work. But you won’t do this in a few weeks it will probably take months. The effort however will pay-off. Finally John Gattorna in his book ‘Living Supply Chains’ notes – There are some people you just should not try to collaborate with!

    PS if anyone noticed the similarity between the steps above and the Vested model ( it was entirely deliberate!

  2. I absolutely have to agree – the company’s “DNA” has to start with “wanting” a collaborative relationship, and having the visionary leadership to lead down that path. Then, the next critical path is a defined process to get the relationship and contract, to that new structure. Too many times I see companies saying they want “collaborative” and then handing their partner a traditional contract structure, that only drives traditional behaviors. Having a shared vision & objectives, which BOTH parties jointly develop, a pricing model that is truly “fair” and rewards great behavior, and a rigorous governance process that keeps “everything in check” – it’s only then will company’s see transformational results. Check out for more information.

  3. I agree that collaborative relationship is difficult to implement but as a concept and as way of working, both external and internal to an organization, collaboration is very beneficial and can work.. There are several pit falls for it to work. In public sector and government contracts that are “rule based” organization, collaborative solutions to contracting cannot happen on pre award activities as it is against the principle of “fairness” in tendering or RFx processes. The benefit of post contract collaboration can ensure contract value leakages are avoided and thus the parties can hold on to the savings that was originally envisaged. The DNA of an organization is its culture, shared beliefs and behaviors. Look for companies to collaborate that has similar culture, shared beliefs and behaviors for successful collaboration.

  4. You are so right on. Collaboration doesn’t happen because we like the concept. Without the hard work and trust, you can forget about it.

  5. Eugene P. Grace permalink

    Strategic alliances tend to work when the parties have STRONG reasons to enter into the alliance. I have created a variety of strategic alliances even with parties that were not what you would describe as “friendly.” But they had powerful incentives to create the relationships. In one case, the parties would have been at a significant competitive disadvantage if they hadn’t moved forward with an alliance. In another case, they wanted to recoup sunk IT expense by creating a new piece of commercially marketable software. Both projects were big successes, but took a lot of effort to develop and a continuing effort to keep the relationships together. I would agree that, in most cases, the leopard does not change its stripes; the wisdom from Aesop continues to have validity for us today.

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