2…4…6…8…Why should we Collaborate?

It seems that everyone is talking about collaboration these days. A recent edition of the Harvard Business Review was a double issue, focussing on collaboration. What is this fuss all about? People have been collaborating for years, surely. Businesses have had close working relationships with suppliers and customers for many years. The world of business is changing however, the ‘licence to operate’ for many businesses has undergone a fundamental shift. The competitive, winner takes all, in secrecy and other practices have been softened in a lot of ways.

There has been a societal push for openness and transparency, a legislative drive to curtail the worst practices on the environment, the employees’ and consumer rights. Also, as many businesses move away from resource heavy production to dealing in ideas, concepts, innovation, virtual products, the emphasis on brand image and company goodwill has increased. This is as true for small as well as large businesses.

In developed consumer markets customers have access to other suppliers, have better information on their choices and are often spending on discretionary goods. This shift means the rules of engagement have changed utterly. In recessionary times businesses need every customer they can get their hands on. Such times are forcing businesses to look at other ways of getting and keeping critical partners, ways of doing business.

Collaboration up and down the supply chain can help all players gain access to much wanted resources to serve the market. Building mutually beneficial arrangements with other stakeholders must be based on respect, on a sharing of agreed common purposes and doing all this with intention. Such complex opportunities require a more delicate leadership touch than the traditional authoritative style.

The development of the wider stakeholder concept has spread to include such diverse and extensive partners that these days, the emotional intelligence required to run a successful business is now more important than the accountancy skills.

For example, IBM in Ireland are developing the Smart City programme and as part of this Galway Bay is being developed as a ‘smart bay’. This requires linking to trawler fishermen to maintain the buoys, local businesses and home-owners along the coast, the Marine Institute, community organisations to ensure community support. The traditional business model would see a giant multi-national like IBM attempt to buy these partners’ time and labour.

But the new IBM understanding of business as an eco-system, leads them to see these partners as true collaborators. IBM spent much time and effort to ensure the shared common purpose from the get go, dealing respectfully with all the different types of stakeholders on a basis of joint interest in the outcomes.  All partners stand to gain through the collaborative process which produces results that money just can’t buy.

Victor Branagan, Systems Thinker

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