Culture of Collaboration

Posted: 8/23/2010 by Norma Watenpaugh

Is your company partner friendly? Or is every attempt at collaboration an uphill battle? I heard one partner manager describe her partnership with one company as “hand-to-hand combat.” Another partner manager described his partner as “infested with partnering antibodies,” -- not surprisingly this was from the life sciences sector. On the other hand, some companies stand out as “partners of choice” where collaboration is infused into the corporate culture, “It’s in the DNA.”

The Collaboration Imperative

Collaboration is emerging as a crucial competency for long-term business viability. Collaboration is a source of growth and innovation. Collaboration is essential in optimizing business processes internally and business relationships externally.

Proctor & Gamble, a company known for innovation and excellence, dramatically changed its innovation model after a near-death experience in 2000. Today half the company’s new products come from innovation originating outside of P&G labs. This hails not just a change in business model but also a significant change in culture, in the mindset of their engineers, researchers, and product managers. How do you achieve in-sourcing 50% of your innovation? Through collaboration with external partners!

“Our vision is simple. We want P&G to be known as the company that collaborates – inside and out – better than any other company in the world.” -A.G. Lafley, CEO, P&G

Collaboration is Not Technology

Web 2.0, social media, and collaboration technologies are exploding in adoption rate. Facebook just announced 500 million users. Companies are rushing to put up Facebook pages and tweeting their company news. Web conferencing is now main stream. All these technologies are supposed to somehow improve collaboration, but they are only the medium.

Collaborate is a verb. It is a conscious act of working together.

Alliance and partner managers are in essence collaboration professionals. Our roles are about creating corporate value from collaboration. We can develop our skills at collaboration through training and education, but most of us learn by doing on the job. We can benchmark our personal skills through the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals credentials: CA-AM and CSAP certifications. There are books written on how to manage partnerships and even an emerging standard on managing collaborative business relationships, which will establish a model for the business practice of partnering. But what do we know about building a culture for collaboration?

Benchmarking Culture

How does one measure collaborative culture? How do measure the antibodies or the capacity for collaboration embedded in a company culture beyond the processes and technology or the skill of the individual alliance managers? What is it about partner friendly organizations that make collaboration the norm? Do we just know it when we see it? We definitely know it when it is absent!

Two respected colleagues, Prof. Ard-Pieter de Man and Prof. Dave Luvison, have researched alliance performance and behaviors. Most recently, they have created a baseline for benchmarking collaborative culture working with the Quintiles alliance organization and the membership of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals. More importantly, they have begun the work of validating that collaborative attributes do matter and have a positive impact of alliance performance.  I invite you read their work in the PhoenixCG resource center:  “Alliance Culture: It’s in the DNA!”

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