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Achieving collaborative relationships

June 15, 2017

Business leaders call for more collaboration; workers confirm that they prefer collaborative environments; researchers point to the benefits of collaboration. Yet consistently it proves hard to achieve and sustain – almost always (of course) due to failings by ‘the other side’!

The big challenge is that collaboration generally requires significant behavioral change at an organizational level. Indeed, this is recognised in the newly announced ISO standard,  ‘Collaborative Business Relationships’.

The problem is that any large, established organization struggles to implement behavioral change and in this instance the problem is of course much bigger, because the ability to collaborate is not just a matter of internal capabilities. You must also find organizations to collaborate with, others who share your values and methods.

So if there is indeed an overall will to collaborate, how can we bring practicality and meaning to collaborative relationships?

While we can certainly refer to the ISO standard as an aspirational model for organisational design, we also need to understand why the past is littered with anecdotal examples of success, but very few where those successes have been sustained or replicated.

Why is that? Embedded attitudes towards suppliers and customers are hard to change; they are often founded in a history of disappointments and tensions. Management and measurement systems frequently drive contention. Contracts are typically unbalanced and rarely act as a unifying force (‘we collaborate in spite of the contract’). Overall, factors such as these undermine trust and repetitive experiences confirm that collaboration is the exception.

The ISO standard is helpful in providing an approach for measuring eventual success. But in isolation, I dont believe that it offers a practical method for moving forward. As with all change initiatives, organizations need evidence of success; people want to understand more precisely how they should change working practices and they want to see the benefits.

That is where IACCM’s relational contracting model comes into play. It is realistic, practical, relatively easy to implement – and successful. The relational workshops help people see how they as individuals can make a difference and result in the sort of small steps that are fundamental to realising a big vision. The collaboration resulting from this approach generates a working environment that others then wish to replicate. From being an isolated example or pilot, the relational approach can rapidly gather steam and become THE way of working.

By its very nature, trade is a collaborative activity. It also lies at the heart of human progress and economic advancement. To quote from a recent article in Fast Company: “Collaboration is no longer just a strategy: it is the key to long-term business success and competitiveness. Businesses that realize this sooner rather than later will be the ones who win the game and succeed in the new global economy”. Relational contracting provides commercial and procurement teams with the chance to show leadership in this field, rather than being seen as a potential barrier.

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