Collaborate For Greater Success

I was invited to participate on a panel discussion at the recent Michigan Economic Developers Association meeting held August 23rd – 25th. The focus of the discussion was the “Future of Economic Development in the Midwest”. My comments by and large centered on the increasing role of collaboration as a strategy for driving cost efficiencies and improving performance. Prior to the meeting, I authored a blog post on tips for successful collaborations that were gleaned from my Procter & Gamble days of working with a co-promotion partner. I thought I’d follow-up with another post after the meeting to provide some additional perspective.

I am hoping MEDA meeting attendees comment on this post and also share their thoughts regarding the panel discussion at their meeting.

Groups Are Not Teams

You can’t throw a bunch of people together, call them a team and expect them to tackle difficult challenges. It is important to create the conditions for success.

  • There has to be a specific goal that everybody on the Team has as a work priority and is held accountable for achieving.
  • The Team must become interdependent. Members cannot simply act independently and meet periodically to update each other. They need to interact and rely on each other to provide insight and enable success.
  • Each Team member must personally own the goal. Their individual win must be defined and the Team must ensure both the Team goal and individual member wins are delivered in order to be successful.

When you create cross Organizational Teams, it is important to ensure every Organization brings something unique to the table (e.g. skills, knowledge, resources, network, etc.) that is required to achieve the goal. That will create a natural dynamic that forces members of the Team to value each other’s contributions and relevance to success.

Why Use Collaborations?

Remember, the choice to collaborate is a strategic decision to leverage an organizational structure to achieve a specific objective. I want to emphasize the word choice. If you can’t explain why a collaborative approach makes sense, it probably doesn’t.

Here are some general reasons to consider.

  • Speed. Collaborations can bring more resources and knowledge to bear on getting things done faster. I often refer to this as leveraging the power of OPM – OPK – OPR (other people’s money, other people’s knowledge, other people’s resources) to get work done.
  • Complexity. Collaborations often bring different experiences, networks and procedures to help find new, non-obvious solutions to vexing problems.
  • Focus. Collaborations are formed with specific goals, action plans and milestone delivery times that drive clarity on who does what and when.
  • Creativity. Diverse backgrounds and personalities are the fuel creativity thrives on. Often, collaborations identify surprising solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.
  • Learning. One of the objectives of collaborative exercises is to learn how other Organizations approach problem solving so you can go back and further strengthen your own Organization’s performance. This is not necessarily a natural outcome. It needs to be pre-planned as an outcome of investing time in any collaborative exercise.

Three Additional Success Tips

Set Clear Goals. Remember, collaborations are a strategic choice. You need to ensure Teams know why they have been assembled and what “good” looks like. Too often, collaborations are created and become “black holes” for investment of resources without ever delivering value to the partners. When that happens, you can often see the reason for failure in how the goals are defined.

Be Flexible. Things change and difficult challenges require innovative solutions. The collaboration needs to adapt and keep focused on achieving the end goals.

Resolve Conflicts. Problems can’t be allowed to fester unaddressed. It is bad for the morale on the collaboration and quickly becomes a reason for inertia. It is important for the senior managers of each Organization involved in the collaboration to provide appropriate oversight and help resolve conflicts that the Team may be struggling with addressing effectively. Quickly bust barriers to success that are either real or perceived.

What is Your Experience?

Have you worked as part of a Regional Collaboration before? What worked well and what seemed to get in the way? What impact does politics have in public/private collaborations?

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