Collaboration and business can seem to be at odds with each other – the former about sharing and mutual gain, the latter often associated with individualism and competition. But when entrepreneurs choose to work on a project with others it can be extremely beneficial – they gain exposure to new ideas, share resources and learn new skills.
As a Collaboration Catalyst (the theme for April), you might see great opportunities to bring experts to work together on specific projects. So what can you do to increase the chances of success?
Last year, Eva Petrakova, a Masters student (now graduated), approached me to contribute to her final dissertation on entrepreneurship and collaboration. Eva had found that there was not much literature on this specific area – only information on strategic alliances, networks and cooperation – and particularly not focusing on the more social factors that contribute to productive partnerships. She wanted to observe how this worked in practice.
At the time, at Bracket, I was just starting a collaborative project with another business, which I suggested that Eva shadow. This partnership turned out to be very successful, and Eva developed the following framework based on her observations:
1. Build personal relationships: After initially meeting our partners through a shared interest, we tested our working relationship and compatibility by working on a small project together. When that was successful, we decided to progress to a larger and riskier venture. The relationship developed quickly, largely due to complimentary personalities (a mix of visionary and practical), good chemistry and an ability to keep our interactions informal, friendly and often humorous.
2. Develop regularity: Frequent, but short meetings (30 minutes, twice a week) enabled us to keep the project as a priority, particularly as it was not part of our core business. Our meetings were task-driven and energetic which kept the motivation high – they were something we looked forward to. This went a long way to strengthening the team identity, as well as providing frequent performance feedback and clarification of roles.
3. Emphasise commitment: Despite the quick and informal meetings, we took commitment very seriously. We all had multiple and competing projects in our own businesses, but we were determined to make the partnership work. At the start of the project we made a conscious choice – partly through the regular meetings – to allocate time and resources. This created a clear and shared responsibility.
4. Work hard to establish trust and maintain reputation: Our existing reputations were important in establishing the initial trust for this new partnership, and our on-going informal interactions worked to increase it. We did not employ a formal contract – more a set of principles that were laid out at the start. The lack of contract could have been a risky strategy, but it enabled us to stay flexible and develop the project, and our relationship, organically. Communication was kept open and transparent through shared documents and our regular meetings.
5. Ensure mutual goals: Financial gain was not the primary motive for our partnership (although we did ensure that there would not be a financial loss) – creating social value was more important. We had a mutual excitement and passion for the project’s topic, and so our main goals were around increasing profile, brand development and making contacts. Although we did hit our financial targets, we were more driven by the ability to create something together that we could not do individually.
Collaboration Catalysts are responsible for creating the right environments for people to work together effectively. In business, it’s easy to forget the softer aspects of collaboration – often focussing on the operational aspects such as deadlines and tangible outcomes. Eva’s observations demonstrated that the social foundations – personal relationships, communication, shared commitment, trust and reputation, and mutual goals – were instrumental in making this partnership successful.
Thanks to Eva for her insightful study.