A successful business collaboration doesn't rely on a single definitive model or way of working. All businesses are different. Depending on your operational, cultural and financial approach, certain types of business collaboration may suit you better than others.
Nevertheless, some common elements make collaborative networking success more likely. For example:
- transparency and trust - between different members working as one team
- mutuality and solidarity - working together for the benefit of each other
- information exchange - communicating openly about problems and ways of working
Businesses that collaborate may also find it helpful to have a similar culture, operational synergies and a desire to make collaboration work. Support from top management and, often, key people within a business, will also contribute to successful collaboration.
Stages of business collaboration
Collaborative networks are often achieved in stages involving:
- exploration - looking at the potential benefits and ways of collaborating
- assimilation - transforming the ideas into a working collaboration
- exploitation - pooling resources and knowledge to create new processes or products
Challenges can emerge at each stage of this life cycle.
Planning for collaboration
A foundation of any collaboration is establishing:
- a clear purpose
- an agreed business opportunity
- clear rules of engagement between members
This will allow you to set clear expectations regarding the inputs and outputs of members. It will also enable you to align the interests of the initial membership. Once you define the focus of the network, you can assess and design the criteria for additional members to bring the greatest benefit.
Establishing a business collaboration
Once you agree on the collective business goals, you should implement a formal partnership arrangement. This will establish clear roles and responsibilities in the new network. You should also draw up:
- a formal project plan
- a risk register
- governance procedures to manage the different business interests within the group
Many successful collaborations appoint one company to act as a project lead. A major company with a high profile as the flag bearer for the network can bring greater visibility to attract new members, funding and customers.
See also how to set up a business collaboration.
Delivering a collaborative network
Successful collaboration relies on trust as much as the viability of the project itself. Ensuring that members work honestly and openly is a priority. The simplest way to achieve this is through effective communication between members. For example, you may want to:
- schedule meetings at regular intervals
- identify clear roles for individuals in project change or snags
It is essential that each member of the network follow agreed procedures and protocols. You should communicate these clearly to all members.
For the long-term success of the collaboration, it is equally important to have a fair gain sharing mechanism in place. Correct legal documents can help you support the collaboration and formalise the rules of engagement. See legal documents for business collaboration.