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Barriers to collaboration

October 27, 2014

There is growing appreciation that collaborative relationships generate better results. On one level, it is surprising that anyone ever thought otherwise, but market pressures over recent years have caused fundamental realignments in buyer / supplier relationships. These changes have undermined trust and often created a high level of contention and adversarialism.

Now, the pendulum is swinging back, there is a new level of openness in business relationships and a greater readiness to discuss shared risks and responsibility. Achieving this demands a shift in the negotiation agenda and greater focus on governance and performance management principles and process.

However, the transition is not easy. Today I have been leading a workshop on collaborative supply relationships and the participants shared what they saw as the major barriers to change. Top of their list came a lack of trust – but of course this is a symptom of other things and will not be fixed without addressing the causes. Here are the top five (by frequency) that they identified:

  • Resistance based on the view that collaboration takes too long (to reach decisions) and undermines accountability
  • Different objectives / mismatched KPIs / silos between stakeholders
  • Competitive bidding / re-tendering practices
  • Unclear process, especially with regard to roles and responsibilities
  • Unclear benefits of collaboration – both organizational and personal

I find it interesting that the group saw internal barriers as the major challenge. No one mentioned resistance or reluctance by the counter-party (though this audience was from the customer side and I suspect a supplier audience might generate a different list).

Fortunately, we were able to work on some immediate practical steps that will increase collaboration – but it is clear that there are significant obstacles to be overcome before the benefits can be realized.

One Comment
  1. “…undermines accountability…” is an interesting observation Tim. That seems to imply that having single person accountability is a good thing. I’m not so sure.

    Any complex system, project or contract will not be succesful if you just divide it into independent elements, allow each one to focus on their local objectives, and sum the results. That is what individual accountability does. Everyone should be collectively accountable for the overall result. All win, all lose.

    If you want the best outcome there should be no place in complex projects, for “we dId OK, they lost a fortune”, at least not if you want the significant benefits collaboration can being.

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