Collaborative Advantage

business collaboration - Collaborative Advantage

The outset of any new year is always a good time for critical reflection, to thoughtfully re-evaluate the past and honestly look at the challenges the upcoming year poses. Such reflection is particularly significant as we begin 2013.

While it will be a struggle, it is time to courageously move beyond self interest-based partisanships and siloed thinking. Trying to effectively resolve the fiscal cliff dilemma is a good example that such adversarial tactics and strategies do not resolve issues.

The Arab Spring that caught international attention in 2010 not only illustrated the power of the collective, but also that an adaptive system of networks of collaborative relationships that have a common purpose, that effectively share information, and that learn as they interact with each other can create monumental, even revolutionary, change. While mistakes were made, and there are many steps left in the process with critical issues to overcome, vital change is taking place. A new world order is emerging.

The future is calling organizations—for-profit businesses, nonprofits and government agencies—to create new business models that enable them to morph themselves into collaborative networks that benefit all stakeholders.

Presently, the lines between the above sectors are becoming blurred, creating what is often referred to as the “fourth sector.” Cross sector social partnerships (or CSSPs), collaborative ventures between business organizations, governments and civic communities, are forming to address large scale social issues.

Having a collaborative vision and spirit is also a good business practice. Establishing an organizational structure and culture of collaboration can empower organizations to access and utilize the intelligence and ingenuity of the collective—the entire networked organization—not just a few identified talented leaders and employees.

Already in the contemporary global marketplace, strategic partnerships are fundamental aspects of the organizational structure and workplace environment of competitive enterprises.

Globalization has transformed companies into complex networks of intertwined organizations located throughout the world. They have become an ever evolving constellation of partnerships and alliances with other businesses, their supply chain vendors, their outsourced manufacturing units, and their community partners, as well as educational institutions, nonprofits and government agencies.

To be successful, such networked organizations must create innovative ways to function as a unified system that collaborates with all stakeholders and enhances the ecology of the entire network. Informal links, social networks, co-located and virtual teams, organizational partnerships and alliances, and communities of interest and practice are all forms of collaboration.

In today’s knowledge-powered enterprises conversations and relationships have strategic value, being critical to increasing innovation and creative problem solving and to an organization being successful and staying viable. For this reason, it is important that the power of intra and inter-organizational social networking and connectivity be systematically harnessed by the organization’s culture, and effectively channeled through the enterprise’s operational processes and tits workplace environment.

Collaborative organizational networks focus on establishing a systems-wide ecology of engagement and interdependence. Tapping into the intelligence and diverse expertise of the interactive organizational network itself they generate new knowledge and ways to apply it.

In 1995’s Building Strategic Relationships: How to Extend Your Organization’s Reach Through Partnerships, Alliances, and Joint Ventures, authors William Bergquist, Julie Betwee and David Meul pointed out that strategic business and workplace relationships can enable an organization to be more flexible and develop interdependent work styles. They can assist the organization to more effectively leverage its competencies, do more with less human and financial resources, expand into areas beyond its in-house talent base’s specific capabilities, and enter new markets. Further, workplace partnerships have the potential of building a sense of community among employees and with external resources, as well as heighten the sense of job satisfaction and feeling of working in a personal and meaningful manner.

As intercompany partnerships and alliances become a common business strategy and mode of operating, Rosebeth Kanter in 2002’s Harvard Business Review on Strategic Alliances perceptively pointed out that “in a global economy, a well-developed ability to create and sustain fruitful collaborations gives companies a significant leg up… [but]… too often… top executives devote more time to screening partners in financial terms than managing the partnership in human terms….They worry about controlling the relationship than about nurturing it. In short they fail to develop their company’s collaborative advantage and thereby neglect a key resource.”

So, if collaboration is a strategic business advantage:

  • What are the critical characteristics of effective intra and inter-organizational collaborative relationships?
  • What are the qualities of an organizational culture of collaboration? How can it be developed and fostered?

With the nationally and globally distributed business model now the norm:

  • What are the various forms of collaborative partnerships needed?
  • What types of organizational configurations can aid companies create dynamic internal work partnerships that can assist them in establishing and maintaining effective intercompany alliances?
  • What type of shared leadership and collaborative strategies increase partnership relationships?

To enable this conversation to collaboratively unfold:

  • What has been your experience with addressing the challenges organization face to establish and maintain collaborative partnerships?
  • How would you begin to answer the above questions?

Read other posts by Chuck Piazza

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