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The Collaboration Formula

by David Brock on October 22nd, 2015
Partnership Equation

I’m attending CEB’s Sales and Marketing Summit.  If you ever have the opportunity, it’s a very worthwhile conference.  Between the discussions over the past couple of days and come coincident phone and email discussions I’ve had while here, the concept of collaboration has been a huge underlying theme.

Whether it’s how we work with our colleagues and team members more effectively, how we collaborate with customers–facilitating their own opportunity-solving process, or helping them to buy, the concepts of collaboration underlie virtually everything we do.

Collaborations come in all shapes and sizes.  They could be career long collaborations with colleagues in our companies.  Working together to complete projects, working to win a certain deal, developing new programs, addressing a problem area.  They may be momentary–almost transactional collaborations, coming together for a short period of time to achieve something.  Perhaps it’s to plan the company Christmas party, or to address a customer problem.

We collaborate with people in our companies, we collaborate with suppliers, business partners, channel partners, and with our customers.

Collaboration has many different names–teamwork, cooperation, partnering, alliances.  Sometimes we reserve the word “collaboration” for the big stuff, but at their core, there are lots of commonalities.

Collaborations are problematic.  In the Challenger Customer, we learn out customers struggle to collaborate.  The majority of their “buying” initiatives end in no decision made because they can’t align themselves around the goals, objectives, and process of buying and problem solving.  Morten Hansen’s Collaboration provides data on internal collaborations, again observing high failure rates often for similar reasons or because we’ve chosen the wrong things in which to collaborate.  Our own work on Strategic Alliances (while a few years dated) shows 75-82% of strategic alliances fail to achieve their objectives.

It causes one to pause–collaboration is vital to our success as organizations–both internally and externally, but universally, we have pretty bad hit rates on successful collaboration.

We’ve even taken the position on strategic alliances and partnering–to use it only as a last resort, if you can achieve the goals without partnering, you are probably better off.

At the same time, we are struck by the growing number of companies supplying tools to help us collaborate more effectively.  Slack (which is a fantastic tool), helps us share information in more natural ways.  We have share calendaring, messaging, “communities of interest,” project management, and many others–all supposedly to help us be more effective and successful (I suppose) in our collaborations.

But successful collaboration really has nothing to do with the tools.  Underlying successful successful collaborations are a set of principles that have to be “in balance” in order to be successful.  We’ve codified it into the collaboration formula.Partnering equation 2

Let me define the elements of this equation:

  • Share Risk
  • Shared Resources
  • Shared Rewards
  • Shared Values
  • Shared Vision

To maximize the effectiveness and our success in any kind of collaboration, there must be an appropriate balance and alignment of these with every participant in the collaboration.  When the balance of these get really out of whack, collaborative efforts become very difficult–and often fail.

Think about some of your experiences with this.  We know the importance of a strong culture within a company.  Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats Strategy.”  As you inspect companies with very strong and effective cultures, you see very strong balance across all of the elements–particularly around Shared Values and Vision.  As a result, the people in these companies tend to have much higher success rates in internal projects than those that don’t have these in balance.

Contrast this with organizations that have weak or divisive cultures–you know the “stab you in the back” kind of culture.  Their success rate on internal collaborations is much lower.  They aren’t aligned in these basic fundamentals, consequently, it’s very easy to get derailed or in endless loops of contention and conflict.

Whether we look internally or into our customer organizations and the difficulties they have in reaching decisions, the more unbalanced the group is in these five elements, the more likely they will fail.

What’s this mean as we try to help our customers with their opportunity-solving and buying processes?  Too often, both we and our customers have the tendency to get into “task” or “problem solving” mode too quickly.  We don’t invest the time up front in aligning the team or in explicitly identifying the areas values, vision, risks, resources, and rewards.  Consequently, the process is biased to failure from the start.  Helping the customer understand the importance of aligning themselves in these areas is critical to their success and the value we co-create.

This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it lays the groundwork for success in their collaboration around opportunity-solving and buying.

There’s a whole lot of stuff underlying these principles and how we leverage them for successful collaborations.  I’ve written some about them in the past and will write more soon.  I did want to make sure you understand the concept of “appropriate balance.”  The greater the risk, resources, rewards, the more important alignment around all these issue is.  If it’s a very low impact decision, “where should we go for lunch” the time we need to spend in aligning these principles is very small.  On the other hand if this is a “bet your company” opportunity-solving issue, then the importance of balancing these issues becomes very critical.

Additionally, the word “shared” is used very purposefully in this equation.  Shared doesn’t mean equal.  There are people involved in decision-making processes who are important but may not have as much at stake–or need to have as much at stake.  We need to have alignment and engagement, but at the appropriate level.

Effective collaboration and opportunity-solving is difficult internally, as we cross internal organizational boundaries and as we collaborate across different enterprises.  Bias the collaboration for success by making sure there’s balance and a shared approach in values, vision, risk, resources and rewards.

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  1. Doug Schmidt permalink


    Great insights on collaboration and opportunity solving. Effective collaboration and opportunity-solving should be a “Smart Thinking Leadership Tool, Habit and Strategy”. Companies like Cisco have embedded collaboration and problem solving into their culture.

    “In Strategic Alliances, Steve Steinhilber proves that, despite the odds, alliances are critical to the business strategy for companies competing globally: customers want integrated solutions to their problems, and that’s pushing companies to work together to create differentiated offerings.” Source Harvard Business Review –

    Steve’s book “Strategic Alliances” Steve outlines the steps needed and framework for how and what strategic alliances look like. According to the book Cisco creates compelling evidence on why Cisco creates over $5 billion with a “b” in additional revenue thru strategic alliances and partnerships.

    Why do so many companies fail to create profitable alliances and partnerships? Maybe they need to start to be more effective “Smart Thinking Leaders”. Steve”s book “Strategic Alliances” is great start!

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