Tried and Trusted

Phil Birch

Birch Business IQ

Generally speaking we all understand what collaboration means. Essentially it is an an arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly towards a common goal. They co-operate and interact with each other in ways that can encompass a variety of actions, such as communication, information sharing, cooperation, problem solving, and negotiation with a view to achieving their common goal.


Tried and trusted
Traditionally, collaboration has been associated with the Arts, in particular with music and song writing but collaboration has roots and expression in far more prosaic areas such as early trade and modern day business. Trade originated with the start of communication in prehistoric times. Trading was the main “transfer” facility of prehistoric people, who bartered goods and expertise long before the development of money as a form of exchange.

Collaboration in business today has a multitude of forms from the simplicity of a partnership to the complexity of a multinational corporation.

Collaboration between team members allows for better communication within the organization and throughout the supply chains. It is a way of coordinating different ideas from numerous people to generate a wide variety of knowledge.

Due to the complexity of today’s business environment, collaboration in technology encompasses a broad range of tools that enable groups of people to work together and, broadly speaking, any technology that facilitates linking of two or more humans to work together can be considered a collaborative tool. Many large companies are developing enterprise collaboration strategies and standardizing on a collaboration platform to allow their employees, customers and partners to intelligently connect and interact. This can be from simple intranets to streamline internal communication and co-operation to huge business to business and business to client interfaces.

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.”
Mattie Stepanek

I feel that I am able to speak upon this subject with some authority. I have established several collaborative ventures that have used the individual skills and attributes of disparate individuals in tandem with powerful internet tools to create something that is far greater than the sum of it’s parts. As with any business venture there are benefits and potential pitfalls.

Some of the potential benefits are:

* Increased creative input, we don’t have to have all the best ideas ourselves
* Increased purchasing power from the collective entity
* Potentially reduced fixed costs of buildings etc by utilising internet and web tools
* Productivity by being able to specialise on each members individual core skills

Some of the potential pitfalls are:

* Commitment to the common goal
* Equality of input and effort
* Sharing of returns and profits

In my experience it is vital to select the right partners and collaborators and to consistently manage their respective input in exchange for the benefits. Collaboration also requires leadership and there are always those individuals that operate with the maxim that “first among equals” has to be them! If you establish collaborative projects communication to and management of all parties is essential. Be clear, firm and consistent. Essentially, collaboration works but only if all parties want it to! And it is here that my own experience of collaboration has provided very differing results.

Key and common values
A greater man than I once said that the only way that to truly know if you can actually trust someone is to trust them.

Only in the results can our faith be justified – or not. In a recent project I collaborated with about a dozen individuals. Each collaborator was professional, independent and claimed a similar approach to business as me. The project was communicated in detail and the respective obligations and requirements explained to everyone. Everyone appeared to be enthusiastic, committed and motivated by the potential benefits to be gained from the alliance. The results, however, were remarkably disparate. Some parties embraced the concept and duly completed their activities and obligations. They “got it” so to speak. Others were less diligent but, with ongoing support, went through spurts of mutual activity. Others, despite friendly reminders and unceasing delivery of my part of the deal, extracted the urine. They never did more than the minimum, this being any part of the project that specifically benefitted them, and them alone.

Of course you will always get a variety of results just as you have a variety of knowledge and personalities but what I failed to consider was that some people just cannot be trusted. Some people will only take. Some people are only self focused. Some people never walk their talk. Clearly, others will go beyond the minimum; they will show initiative and creativity. They will work outside of their minimal input requirements and help to move the overall project forward for reasons beyond their own self/business needs. They will justify the trust.

I guess that there is no real way to differentiate at the commencement of the project but only ways to deal with the slackers and to focus on progress with the supporters. One can only hope that during the lifetime of the project that the good guys don’t get too naffed off with the bad guys or, even more disturbingly, allow the bad guys to jeopardize the integrity and success of the overall project. It can be a difficult process but if you are the “first among equals” then action must be taken. This is all part of leadership – trashing out the wheat from the chaff.

There are other reasons why collaborative working can be the perfect solution for you and your business;

* collaboration builds contacts and networking opportunities without the need for long drawn out contract agreements and negotiations
* collaboration can be done on a ‘quid pro quo‘ basis
* collaboration allows for the strengthening of relationships by building trust
* collaboration creates synergy between else-wise remote products and service providers
* collaboration forms a group of businesses with like minds and values without formal structure and costs
* collaboration allows for flexibility and freedom of the individual to develop personally without out-growing the organization
* collaboration develops a kind of brains trust between members so reduces the need to outsource or conduct lengthy tender processes

Collaborative projects rely, even more than any other types of business arrangement, on trust, integrity and mutual benefit. All I would suggest is that you consider the partners carefully, specify the conditions precisely and remove the dead wood effectively and immediately. Collaboration is a wonderfully creative process and method of team-working so don’t let the selfish or the foolish undermine the spirit of the agreement. Remind, review and reward or release, whichever serves the greater good.

The3rdi magazine is a perfect example of what can be achieved from a collaboration of individuals, each with their own businesses but with a shared interest in inspiring, informing and involving women in business. I’m sure that Karen will have more to say about this in this months editorial!

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Charles Darwin

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