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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9 Comments so far

  1. Miki Ellsworth

    August 29, 2011

    Public/private collaborations can be a windfall for the private sector.
    The pragmatic approach that governments take is not possible for most
    businesses, nor is it common business practice. Generally, businesses
    operate strictly with a view to the bottom line. I believe most governments
    operate on the premise of weighing the benefits to the greater good
    versus the cost/profit ratio. Most businesses could not defer profits in
    favor of outlaying disproportionate investments in research or theory
    versus practicum. Collaborations would be a boon to any private
    enterprise, allowing it access to systems and expertise it could not
    otherwise have exposure to without incurring the appurtenant costs.
    Those types of costs are likely the reason small businesses fail to grow
    to the next level.

    The upside for the public sector is that they can benefit from the
    ingenuity and resilient perspective of those who often struggle, and
    sometimes thrive with skills and resources that are finite versus the
    abundance of the governments supplies.
    It is difficult to gain insight into industries other than our own.

    Overall a great idea. What more effective way for government to boost economic development than firsthand participation in the execution of the plan?

  2. Peter Kingsmill

    August 31, 2011

    What impact does politics have on the success of collaborations?
    In the small town where I live outside of Saskatoon, they have a word that says it all:

  3. Mattia

    September 2, 2011

    I think the concept of citizenship is obsolete and all the gates bureaucracy puts to the free movement and commerce of people and businesses around the globe. All the laws that govern those items are from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, another world, totally disappeared.

    So, the question is: why do we have to respond and be limited or complicated by totally old, ancient laws that don’t have nothing to do today with the real world?

    For example, the proposal of the Congress for a Start Up Visa for foreigners that want to run a business in the USA and in order to do it need to stay there at least 2 years without traveling around just to renew thier rights to enter in the country. How simple is that?!?

    I’m personally encountering some headaches to plan a mid-marketing campaign and awareness builds up in USA coming from Italy, because starting a business is already complicated and hard, it would be even worse if every few months I have to make “the world cruise in 80 days” just to be able to enter again? How stupid and blind is that? USA NEEDs foreign investment and entrpreneur, because the USA economy is the worst of the plnet now.

    Why it is so hard to comprenehend? Anyway, I could go on…

  4. Massimo De Santis

    September 2, 2011

    Hi Ed,
    Change is not easy, especially in the “old economy areas”. Politics have to have a leadership role, participating in the different panels where changement requires an istitutional Project Leader. The PL have to guarantee the planning definition, the execution and Government subventions – if any.

    For example, big change like the “environmental sustainability”, requires a structural presence of PL for each market sector. At the end, manufacturers, retailers and customers have to be able to play the same game on this arguments.

    On the other hand, “old economy” is equivalent to “production economy”. In Michigan they have to be able to move from “production economy” to “services economy”, or to something in the middle. That means they have to be able to integrate the Big Corporation expertise with SME. At same time that means to stimulate the SMEs incorporations.

    Is there any Leadership role that “politics” can play on that? My answer is YES
    Thank you

  5. Per Ahlstrom

    September 2, 2011

    Per Ahlstrom • Politics can go either way. Some too “business friendly” policies can be detrimental to business. Business needs a good infrastructure, (roads, railroads, educated people, a service sector that allows valuable employees to concentrate on work and not spending their time trying to run their private lives). This infrastructure has to be provided at low cost, which sometimes means it should be run by the public sector and sometimes that it should be contracted out.
    If politics get to ideological, business will suffer, as there are no patent answers to what business friendly policies really are. Low taxes as such are not the answer, as that causes problems with the infrastructure successful business is built on.
    I think politically decided subsidies in the long run is a menace, as subsidies skew the businessman’s or -woman’s view of real cost. I think many of the “green” companies live dangerously as most of them are dependent on government subsidies. Thus politicians striving to build a “politically correct” economic base for their community might cause a lot of harm in the long run.
    There are no simple answers to this, but (for a fee) I can provide a catalogue of different political measures that have worked, and also a catalogue of measures that have not worked.
    So politics are important, but business is wise to be wary of politicians who portray their politics as business friendly. They seldom are.

  6. Ed Burghard

    September 6, 2011

    Great comments. In my experience, branding is a long-term strategy and the 4-year political cycle is inconsistent with the need for consistency in both messaging and resourcing. As a consequence, decoupling the branding effort from politics to the degree possible helps ensure success. In most case this means the private sector leadership should lead economic development with government playing an important enabling role (e.g. product development).

  7. Jeff

    September 17, 2011

    Collaborations require all of the things mentioned in the article, but they also require trust and involve all of the other complexities of any relationship. I witnessed a great example of this in the Australian wine industry many years ago,

    Read more at:

  8. […] Collaborate For Greater Success […]

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