Collaboration in 8 steps? Books shows how, why

Finding Allies, Building Alliances: 8 Elements That Bring — and Keep — People Together” by Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown” (Jossey-Bass, $29.95).

Real-life examples bring the effects of collaboration on mission and productivity into clear focus — and action.

Surescripts, formed by two competitors, created an electronic prescription highway. GEOSS, a global coalition of companies and countries, shares information about changes on the planet from scientific observation stations throughout the world.

How did these organizations and others make 1+1=3?

The authors found eight common threads that created a strong collaborative rope:

1. “Shared common pain”

Problems cross corporate, governmental and institutional boundaries. Self-interest and common interest intersect to create win-win. Organizations become collaborators when they recognize they cannot solve a common problem on their own. They need to pool competencies and share resources to solve the problem and minimize risk.

2. “A convener of stature”

A value alliance needs an organization or individual that commands respect from various audiences. When they speak, others listen because the convener’s reputation defines expectations of trust and fairness — and results.

The convener needs the finesse of diplomacy to define the problem in terms of common interest, focus vision, secure true commitment and manage egos and conflicts. The collaboration is a “new” business. The convener must create an operational structure and a system of accountability.

3. “Representatives of substance”

You need the right people. That starts with decision makers. Participants sending low-level people to the meetings are not fully invested. You need to blend in thinkers — those who have the competencies need to clarify issues, alternatives and actions. Above all, you need people who follow through.

The authors also point out that value alliances walk a fine line when it comes to alliance size. You can’t include everyone. Choose wisely (i.e. those sharing the greatest common pain).

4. “Committed leaders”

Beyond the convener, the diplomat and subject matter experts, the value alliance needs people who can sell ideas, build consensus and teach people about the critical nature of the problem. Matchmakers are needed, too, because the alliance’s actions will involve using non-alliance resources and knowledge.

5. “A clearly defined purpose”

Provide an easy-to-understand and accurate summary of what the value alliance intends to accomplish. Initially, the purpose statement can be used as a “trial balloon to see who it attracts.” When the alliance initially meets, the statement undergoes vetting through discussion and debate. The result becomes the keystone of the alliance’s charter.

Stay true to the purpose. “Collaborations experience purpose creep — an inexorable broadening of scope that eventually makes it impossible to relieve the common pain that drew the group together in the first place.”

6. “A formal charter”

A charter does more than formalize commitment to purpose. It defines how the alliance will work — organization, operations, time frames and decision-making. It also deals with the participants’ financial skin in the game.

While self-interest and common interest intersect in value alliances, the charter also deals with information sharing and the protection of proprietary information.

7. “The northbound train”

Progress must be made or participants will get off the train. When they leave, the remaining participants will question whether the alliance has the horsepower to reach its goals.

To maintain engagement and momentum, it has to reach its milestones on time. The authors suggest using the One-Page Project Manager to keep things on track. The method devises a timeline for each step and designates responsibility for tasks.

8. “A common information base”

Participants need to know the playing field is level. Information sharing and transparency go hand in hand. Keeping people informed of what’s happening and what’s next helps them articulate their roles.

The authors’ message: Successful collaboration requires a structured and disciplined methodology — just as running a successful business does.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated reviewer of business books.

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