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Innovation & Creativity

Better together? Part 2

Better together? Part 2
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In part one of this blog entry on external collaboration we discussed whether it was possible to collaborate with competitors, what the risks are and how best to manage them. Here, in part two, I'll be exploring the role of HR in ensuring collaboration is successful for all involved.

How can HR further support successful collaboration?

Let’s be clear – collaboration is not always a good idea. At a strategic level, HR is well placed to take steps to ensure any collaborative efforts are purposeful and do add value. “Collaboration” is certainly a buzzword at the moment, but it is important not to jump on the bandwagon just to keep up with current trends. Partnership is not always the right solution. It can be a costly, risky, time-consuming and complex practice. Collaboration isn’t an end in itself, it is an approach that, in some circumstances, provides the best chance of solving a business issue through bringing together people from different areas to innovate, co-operate and drive performance. HR should ensure that all collaborative initiatives have clearly defined purposes and are aligned to a strategic goal.

Where collaboration is deemed to be the best way forward, HR will find that many of the skills and behaviours required to ensure efficiency fall within its remit. There will need to be increased focus on building trust (mitigating feelings of fear and personal risk), improving networking, increasing ability to work in extended, often virtual teams, and, most importantly, the development of a new generation of leaders who are adept at working in a collaborative manner.

In our experience, working in collaboration calls on specific leadership qualities. Many senior managers have great track records of achieving top results when they have direct control over set resources (human or otherwise). Throw them into a situation where they are required to collaborate cross-functionally or cross-organisationally, and they may lose their edge. They may find it unnerving to offer up the skills of their best people to the competition, and to simultaneously hand over aspects of leadership and power, as well as some of the resulting credit. When our clients ask us to help them develop the kind of leadership that supports collaboration, we respond with methodologies that improve individual capacity for trust, empathy and patience. We help them to gain confidence in facilitating dialogue and coalition building, providing tools that enable them to share power, knowledge and success, putting ego and competition to one side.

Other opportunities

A move towards a more collaborative way of working will have other implications for HR and L&D functions. As relationships between different organisations strengthen, other opportunities to interact may include:

Joint Talent Management Schemes – Increasingly we are seeing companies developing innovative partnerships with the aim of growing and developing their own talent pools in emerging markets. Collaborating with competitors to source and train new workers and expand talent for the industry can prove a much better option than competing for the few who are ready-trained.

Partnerships with academic bodies I believe a knock on effect of this approach to talent management (or rather talent creation) will be an increase in partnerships with academic bodies. Organisations forming alliances with universities and other educational bodies is by no means something new, but it is something we will see more of. Benefits include strengthening of the talent pipeline, increased employability of students, the chance to influence and aid a seamless transfer from classroom to the workplace and the creation of a wider research community bringing together academic talent and industry experts.

Pooled Purchasing and Open Enrolment Programmes - Pooled purchasing of training is increasingly recognised as an efficient and lean way to practice reducing wastage. At Impact we have also seen our Open Enrolment programmes grow in popularity. Where there is a training need for only a small number, both of the above provide an economical solution. There are also huge added advantages in bringing your people together to network with and learn from individuals with similar needs yet diverse backgrounds.

Secondments both inward and outward secondments can be a great way of addressing certain individual and organisational needs. They are increasingly playing a role in talent management processes during the downturn, when mobility in the organisation/market may be limited. “Loaning” an employee to another organisation can provide a chance for the individual to develop their skills base and test and apply skills in a new environment. Managed correctly, it can expose both parties to different working practices, improve morale and motivation and build brand reputation. Again HR plays a vital role organising and supporting role.


Working in collaboration rather than competition demands confidence in your brand, clarity around your ambition and a willingness to take risks. Before you take that step to share your resources, ideas and skills, you need to be comfortable that your people will retain their loyalty to your organisation and vision. HR must work in collaboration with all other functions to ensure that your organisation is a Great Place to Work – a cause to which your people belong and believe in, no matter what.

Working in collaboration with other functions is a great first step for HR to take. Why not lead the way? There are countless ways to pioneer internal collaboration – setting up cross-functional project teams to address business issues, creating diverse focus groups to innovate new products and services and offering internal secondments, providing personal development and increasing motivation and engagement….to name just a few. After all, many of the skills, behaviours and leadership qualities required for internal collaboration mirror those needed for collaboration with competitors. Creating a culture which embraces collaboration, working together to improve results, will stand you on solid ground when it comes to forging alliances with the competition.

Of course it can be a real challenge to change mindsets when it comes to working with rather than against. We recently ran a simulation for a leading multinational in the extractives sector, who had spotted a need to develop the capacity for collaboration within their junior manager population. In their industry, as with many others, working in collaboration with long-standing competitors is becoming the only way to tackle the challenges posed by new policies and increasingly tough market conditions. The simulation, which saw participants working for three fictitious companies within the same industry, revealed how automatically, and persistently, one defaults to competitive tendencies, even with the knowledge that working in collaboration will bring greater benefit. It’s a hard habit to break, but our simulation showed that persistence pays off.

I for one am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. I believe that the organisations that will survive these turbulent times are those that are approachable, that reach out to others and that are always on the lookout for ways to generate mutual benefit. Ways to be better together.