Seven steps for successful joint collaboration

19 Sep
September 19, 2013

Few businesses are so vertically integrated that they can do absolutely everything.  For most, there is the need to explore collaboration with other organisations in order to achieve their strategic goals.

But what happens when multiple organisations require the same learning and development solution? How can they jointly collaborate to achieve a common goal, ensure robustness of design and save money at the same time?

Story

In a previous post I urged businesses to seek out common areas for joint and collaborative development.

In this post I’m going to outline the process for successful collaboration.  This is not some theory piece – it is a real-world post and based on real experiences of running a number of joint collaborative ventures within the UK financial services arena.

The model I’m going to outline has seven steps.  To be very honest this is the first time I’ve ever considered writing down all the steps so there could easily have been four or fifteen!  I’ve tried to keep it as brief as possible – never easy for me – while giving enough detail so that, as a reader, you can make this work for yourself.  So, having looked at the content, seven steps seemed about right!

So here are my seven steps for successful joint collaboration:

  1. Someone has to take the lead
  2. Go for the greatest spread
  3. Pick a great development partner
  4. Focus on the similarities, not the differences
  5. Be prepared to compromise
  6. Rework after delivery
  7. Celebrate success

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1.  Someone has to take the lead

Although the overall approach of a joint collaborative project is collaboration and throughout the process a collaborative and consensus decision making model will be used, you still need someone to take overall control and leadership of the project.  This should not be your development partner but should be someone from one of the businesses – someone who can be relied upon by everyone to do the right thing and make the right decisions regardless of their own needs.  The needs of the group are paramount – not the individual collaborators.

This doesn’t mean that they actually manage the project but they will draw together all the key people and set the scene for success.  The sorts of traits you’ll need your leader to demonstrate are:

  • Drive
  • Passion
  • Enthusiasm
  • A good grasp of learning and development
  • Trust

And that’s about it!  But remember that you do need a leader because without someone leading then you will surely fail.

2. Go for the greatest spread

When deciding on the topic of your potential joint project it’s worth spreading the net wide and choosing a topic which has the greatest appeal within your chosen target group or industry.  For example, the first joint project I ever ran came about with the introduction of the original Money Laundering Regulations Act in 1993 and yes, it was that long ago!  These regulations had an impact on all financial services businesses within the UK.

As time goes on and you become more adept then you’ll be able to refine the choice of your projects, especially as you meet with and get to know the needs of other like-minded organisations.  But let’s not rush ahead. For your first project choose something that will appeal to as many businesses as possible.  Don’t worry about the flood gates opening.  Joint collaborative projects aren’t for everyone.  When I approached companies to develop the money laundering course I picked 26 UK companies to write to, out of which only five actually came on board.

3. Pick a great development partner

This step almost goes without saying; however, be aware that some development partners may not be happy to develop a course once and share the cost amongst many.  Other development partners, however, see it as a great opportunity for increasing their reach and contact with large businesses and readily accept the challenges.

Your development partner needs to understand fully the nature of a joint project and be willing to work with a range of businesses to deliver a successful outcome.  Your development partner should also understand the challenges that joint projects bring and adjust their pricing and fees to adequately reflect the added complexity of working with a range of partners.

4. Focus on similarities, not differences

Whenever you develop a joint project it’s all too easy to focus on the different ways each business partner approaches a subject.  When there’s a range of businesses sitting round the ‘development table’ the differences in your approach or content are all too obvious.  But don’t let these differences bog you down; instead focus on the similarities you have.

By focusing on common ground you’ll be able to work on the core of your project and any organisational differences can be taken into account later, as we shall see.

In running past joint projects I was always amazed at just how similar each business actually was.  Rather than radically different approaches to common problems, I tended to find that businesses shared many of the issues, pains and challenges of operating within their chosen market.

This is also where your development partner will earn their keep – by ensuring that each joint project member remains focused on core issues and driving them towards a common learning design.

5. Be prepared to compromise

When dealing with a joint project, compromise almost goes without saying!  Within every joint project there will be occasions when stalemate could be the order of the day and this is when you all need to compromise for the benefit of the group.

Make sure that whoever is leading your project applies strong decision making models to ensure that group differences don’t drive you apart.

6. Rework after delivery

There’s always a temptation with any collaborative project to keep adding and tweaking bits of it until everyone is 100% happy.  This will never happen!  If you try and rework the course before delivery then you’ll just add time, cost hassle to the process.  Use step five (above) to get the final course delivered on time and on budget.

Once you have your hands on the final course then you can begin to tweak and rework elements of it to better suit final delivery within your business.

7. Celebrate successes

Getting to the end of a joint project is no easy feat.  It’ll have been a tough road but one that’s well worth travelling.  Now that you’ve finished, it’s time to celebrate the success of delivering a high-quality course at a fraction of the normal price.

Spread the word throughout your business and your industry.  Demonstrate what’s possible and the benefits that can be delivered and the look for your next collaborative venture!

Conclusions

Joint collaborative projects aren’t for everyone; however, where common ground can be reached then they are an excellent way of creating industry-wide learning and development at a fraction of the cost.  Now that’s good news for everyone!

Call to action

Go on, give it a go!  Get in touch with people in your industry and begin exploring opportunities for collaborative development.

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