Collaboration: The identification phase


YTKO business analyst and advisor Chloë Teale explains the process of selecting collaborative partners for your business

Last month we discussed the importance of the decision and planning stages at the outset of any proposed partnership. If collaboration is an integral part of your longterm business objectives and your company is open to change, then the next stage is to identify potential partners and outline how this partnership will work in practical terms.

While there is unfortunately no standardised method of identifying a potential partner, there are some simple guidelines you can follow, once you have established what you want to achieve from a joint venture. A partner may come from your own network of relationships or they could be an organisation you have never met before. However, if you are new to collaboration, you should ideally start collaborating with an organisation you already have a relationship with, whether through business, through networking or socially.

Other areas to explore include regional or national industrial development agencies which should know of companies within your sector and be able to recommend potential candidates to you. It is also worthwhile joining business and sector networks, not only to make invaluable contacts of your own, but also to get to know local business leaders.

Another option is to use an external agent to search for potential partners and facilitate that crucial first meeting. This step is most useful if you are trying to find partners outside your own region or sector.

Contacting the business support community is another way of finding potential partners, making use of their knowledge. In addition to finding a partner able to fulfil what you want to achieve from a collaborative project, you will also need to take into account the ongoing synergies across a number of areas, for example:

  • Strategic – Does each organisation have clear aims and objectives? Do they know their competencies and deficiencies? Is it clear what each will contribute to the partnership?
  • Operational – Can each partner and the partnership as a whole carry out a project in an efficient, effective way? Are the internal business processes of each partner compatible?
  • Cultural – Although the partners do not need to have similar cultures there does need to be compatibility in the areas of management behaviour, trust, communication systems, openness and attitude to risk.

Once you have identified a number of potential partners, you should undergo a thorough selection process based on your requirements. You need to be ruthless in weeding out unsuitable collaborators as early as possible – one of the most common reasons for failure is when organisations which are too similar collaborate because of their general familiarity with one another. Collaboration often works best in the opposite scenario – the more different the partners are, the more likely their competencies will complement one another.

Finding potential collaborators is not a trivial problem and can often be viewed with great apprehension; sometimes it can even be the reason why an organisation will simply give up on the whole idea.

There will always be a certain amount of risk attached to approaching another organisation that is, or could possibly become, a competitor. But if you have a complete picture of all the potential risks, you should be able to adequately prepare your business for any outcome. A question often overlooked when considering this.

Risk can arise just as much from inaction as from a disaster coming to pass, so it is important you ensure that you carry out sufficient groundwork during the initial stages to mitigate this and understand where potential risk may lie.

But once you have established your partnership and all parties are efficiently working together towards a common goal – the rewards can be huge.

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