At our mastermind group, we recently discussed collaboration. We all agreed that collaboration is a good thing for business, but were maybe a little foggy on exactly how it can help us. We were also concerned that there may be pitfalls to be aware of– some of us had come across situations where we needed to extract ourselves from a collaborative project, for various reasons.
We decided to clarify things by doing a ’Pros and Cons’ brainstorm. Here are our results:
- “The might of many”. We can challenge each other’s ways of working and delivery, bounce ideas of each other, and learn from each other.
- We can increase our service offering by working with others who have complementary skills and knowledge.
- Reputation can be enhanced by association with others who are recognised by clients as being the good guys.
- Solid relationships can be formed.
- More business can be attracted and delivered.
- Joint marketing can increase spread, and so be more cost effective.
- Someone else can hold the fort for us, because they know our business and are prepared to help.
- Synergy – two heads working on an issue often leads to a solution that neither could have generated alone.
- It can prevent staleness. We can all get stuck in our own ruts.
- Accountability is often a missing factor for the self employed. Having someone else to explain yourself to can help keep you on track.
- Honest feedback is available from someone who isn’t a customer.
The benefits are easy to see, but before we all rush off to seek out new collaborations, here is the downside:
- Your reputation could be damaged if your collaborator turns out to be unreliable.
- You might need to compromise
- You could waste time on a collaboration that doesn’t come to fruition.
- There may be fear that they could steal your contacts and clients
- As you work together, you might discover that you have different values or motivations. If you have differing agendas, you could be incompatible, workwise.
- One person might benefit more than the other. Does the pain of the effort you have put in result in sufficient gain?
- You could end up training them.
- There might be a conflict of interest
- There could be a dilution of brand awareness – who is wearing who’s cap?
- You might find yourself drawn into their internal politics
So…where does that leave us? There is no point in a pros and cons list, unless we ask the ‘So what?’ question. The conclusions are not difficult to draw here. Being a small company can be a lonely path, and many of us do not reach our potential without having the opportunity to work, learn and grow with others. Collaboration can be a great way to achieve this, but as with any relationship, we need to find out just who, so to speak, we are getting into bed with. Taking time to discover the other person’s attitude to things that are important to you is a wise move, and will help us avoid many of the potential difficulties on the cons list.
The other key factor is to know what it is you want from the collaboration – without this, you are not in a position to evaluate how successful it has been. Some of us have a clear expectations from the outset, others prefer to let things develop organically. Of course there are times to act tentatively, bat around ideas and explore opportunities – sometimes we need to speculate to accumulate.
As in so many business issues, the bottom line is that we need a clear understanding of ourselves – our values, skills, goals, personal style as well as our development needs– before we can successfully work out who to join forces with, and why we want to do it.
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here