How to collaborate to compete

by Deborah Valentine, 05 May 2017
This was the topic of Dr. Yang Fan, researcher and lecturer at Webster University at our April networking evening. What she shared with us was not only the results of her own research ad experience in academia and the corporate sector, but also that of a study done by Accenture in 2014. The trends and findings between small and large businesses were not dissimilar. To start with, the trends in ‘collaboration’ within small, as well as larger industries are similar, even if the manner of implementation differs; as were the benefits – even if the scales were different. Collaboration does lead to better performance, and is beneficial to all. With some caveats of course, this is where the ‘how’ of the talk comes in.
As we listened I was also reminded of an excellent post, WISE words, once shared by Allison Hamilton-Rohe on the subject in March of 2016, in which she provided us with concrete examples about “…how (we) can leverage our WBII connections and use the power of the network?”
Dr Yang Fan speaking at WBII

First: a step back 

Long before the internet, collaborative practices were pretty much determined by time and place. Who you knew where: it ‘old fashion’ in that relationships tended to be ‘closed’ – with one or few collaborators. This practice has been totally disrupted by the internet – where we can all find as many collaborators as we like, regardless of time and place. This move from bilateral to multi-lateral collaborations furthermore broadens the nature of collaboration. Offering businesses the opportunity to ask, and reflect upon what one wants to ‘gain’ from the collaboration.
Among the options the audience hoped to gain from collaboration were: scaling up of business; new, more clients; increased revenue; increased profile; complementary know-how and knowledge and complimentary expertise. Dr Fan reminded us all, that, our clients too – were our collaborators. When put that way, I could see some light bulbs going off.
Another aha moment was the realisation of the franchisee in the audience, who realised she was in fact collaborating with a larger company (though had not thought of it that way), as was the re-seller of certain products. Food for thought, huh?
Who to collaborate with. A checklist

And now: a look at the ‘how’

Upon reflecting on the how, Dr Fan asked us to first know why we wanted to collaborate. What we hoped to gain from it, and only then review with whom. There are many reasons for collaborating, and hence, people, organisations, etc to collaborate with.
Her review of the differences between how larger corporations collaborate, as opposed to small ones, was useful in making us aware of our ‘position’. Larger corporations are increasingly collaborating with smaller ones – for instance if looking for specific skills, or designing new products. However, as a larger corporation the role of the smaller once recruited to collaborate will be consumed by the procedures and processes of a large organisation.
Being aware of this is key to ensuring satisfaction, on the part of the smaller entrepreneur, with the arrangement. Collaboration between smaller entrepreneurs on the other hand tends to be more flexible, more evenly matched as a result of more similar operating procedures.
In all cases, knowing what your own strengths are, what your core business is and making sure there is  complementarity within the collaboration is a strong step in ensuring collaboration does indeed result in better performance, and can be beneficial.
Download Dr Fan’s presentation WBII presentation_April 2017_Dr Fan.

Deborah Valentine is an English language copywriter. She writes for several expat oriented magazines; helps entrepreneurs with their web and marketing texts and edits material prepared by non-native English language speakers.