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STRATEGY: The Rise of Collaborative Partnerships in 2013

Recently we were approached by a local economic developer and a concerned employer from our community.  One of the glaring issues the two parties were seeing in the local community was a dire need to offer basic supervisory and management skills to local employers.  This is nothing really new as building fundamental managerial skills is usually a hot topic in training and development.  However, the interesting thing was 1) the immediate need to get more than one party involved and 2) how we started to develop and partner together (vendor, government, employer) to address a need.  It was that understanding of an immediate need, the possibility of a mutual partnership and the will to act on it that was something new.

In IBM’s 2012 CEO Study, it indicated that with the increasing pressure to innovate there will be a drive among CEOs and organizations for an extensive, deeper, integrated partnership with other entities.  Instead of settling for simply creating new products and services or implementing more efficient operations internally, partnerships will move into other industries or invent entirely new ones to tackle the need for innovation.

The world has become too complex for one organization to go it alone.  I was recently at a conference that included some big organizations from the aviation industry.  One person from a large global aviation company flat out said, “We can’t go it alone any more.  We need you as much as you need us.  We need the smaller, more nimble and innovative company to supply us with creativity, product, services and the like.”  Partnership on multiple levels and platforms, to him, was painfully obvious.

With the rise of partnerships, I believe we will also see a rise in the use of consultants in 2013.  With organizations limping along with fewer and fewer employees, they will look to consultants for specialized, unique skills that quickly translate into results.  As Harvard Business Review’s recent article, The Rise of the Supertemp, pointed out, “they will be increasingly trusted by corporations to do mission-critical work that in the past would have been done by permanent employees…offering new possibilities for growth and innovation to corporations.” The article continues by stating that whereas the old thought that consultants are a bunch of unemployed, lazy people, the new breed of strategic partnering consultants come highly educated, with industry or task experience, and are very specific in the purpose they serve usually providing the organization with just-in-time, real, measurable results.

Let’s look at how organizations might increase collaborative partnerships in 2013 according to IBM’s survey:

Achieve differentiation through social innovation – extend communication, collaborative tools so that peers can interact seamlessly regardless of organizational affiliation (read Social Learning: The Shifting Paradigm of Learning Using Social Technology).

Expand scope partnerships – Instead of involving partners only at specific stages of production, idea-generation, etc., include them in the whole scope of a project – design, implementation, marketing, sales, or HR.

Tackle the shared governance challenge – establish ways to share control whether that be in prioritization, decision making and/or funding.

Broaden responsibility to managing partnerships – embed accountability and responsibility measures for all parties at the table.  This can be achieved through the changing of roles at meetings, the RASCI accountability chart, or distribution of action items with measured deadlines and deliverables.

Foster relationships at each level across the partnership – Provide avenues to develop personal connection and collaboration among peers at every level, not just senior level.

Consider the possibility of partners within the community – No longer are partnerships confined to B2B (Business To Business) relationships, but rather the whole collective community.  In our case we worked with the local government, the local food vendor, the local country club for room, the local print and design studio, etc. to launch a supervisory training for the town-wide community.

Explore unconventional partnerships – Study nontraditional alliances emerging in other industries or what Joel Barker calls, “Innovation at the Verge.” Address market shifts or create new solutions by integrating capabilities not usually found in your own industry.

Think like a disruptor – Intentionally stretch thinking beyond business as usual.  Question norms, introduce new stimulation from the outside, or as Seth Godin instructs, “push the box.”

Innovate together as a system – some problems are simply too difficult to solve even with a collection of partners.  Approach those grand challenges by using the whole system which might include competitors, government, non-profit, and more.

I hope this has provided you with some insight as it did with me.  We are a community of concerned citizens.  Even as business seems to get more complex, challenging and at times chaotic, we must remember our humanity, our unique social ability to collaborate, partner and form teams to solve the needs and challenges of our businesses.  Where you could you see yourself partnering in 2013?  What are 5 other areas that you think would benefit your business?  What is one great collaboration story you’ve heard in the last year?

Many partnerships today have become global, mixing with talent from different cultures and with different perspectives.  Make sure to download our article on understanding cross-cultural communication.  Download here.


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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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