The pace of business and barrage of activity have created a level of organizational fragmentation that borders on chaos. The impact is felt at both a day-to-day and strategic levels. Routine tasks that in the past were within someone’s personal control could now span across several people in vastly different organizations. Larger cross-functional initiatives compete for mindshare, priority and resources. Collaboration has become a business necessity, but will it be enough to sustain organizational success?
First, let’s put some perspective on the situation:
The ways in which businesses “do business” run along a continuum. Organizations that have evolved only along functional boundaries innately create competing priorities. Outcomes create winners and losers. This increases the internal cost for doing business. A business that functions in silos is a business on a crash course with destiny.
Enter cooperation. Cooperation is an agreement between people or organizations to work together with civility and respect. While each person or organization has their own priorities and agenda, there are situations when priorities coincide or when people agree to cooperate for mutual interests.
Collaboration is an improvement beyond cooperation because the nature of the relationship is to strive for win-win outcomes. Win-win is good. This means that each party gets something of benefit from the situational outcomes. The overall agendas and priorities do not necessarily coincide, but at least for a specific initiative there is mutual benefit.
Particularly when compared to cooperation, collaboration creates more effective relationships. It is rich in productive conversations, where give and take, clear communication and active listening are the norm.
However, there are limits to how far collaboration can produce the type of organizational alignment that the enterprise needs for long-term relevance and sustainability. The missing element is a focus on the “third win” – the win for the customer all parties share in common. Ultimately this links to the paying customer, the one that makes all things possible. This ups the game, from a collaborative relationship to one as business partners. In a partnership, the parties share the risk and reward for the ultimate customer’s success. They create benefit for themselves, each other, and the customer – a win-win-win. By focusing on the shared outcomes through shared accountability, they move closer together. Most importantly, they understand how action in one organization impacts action in another. These relationships are continuously aligned and refreshed. It is a commitment with long-term benefit, a belief in the future together.
Collaboration is good. It’s a springboard for good working relationships with mutual benefit. But collaboration alone is not enough. To succeed in the future, working as business partners creates the type of horizontal alignment that reduces costs, promotes innovation, and focuses on the overall health of the business. It is the focus on the customer – the “third win” – that gives organizations a shot at long-term success.