Over the past week people told me a few times that sometimes it is easier to collaborate with outside parties, than it is to collaborate within the boundaries of the own organization. The people who made this remark were surprised and annoyed at the same time about this fact.

However, it is not at all that strange. When we look at internal collaboration, we expect our colleagues, also the ones from another department, to naturally understand our way of working. After all, we work for the same organization, don’t we?

When collaborating with an external organization, we understand that “they are different” and we accept that there is a difference between our two organizations. Thus we are prepared to work harder and bridge that difference.

When we’re really aware of what we are doing, we apply alliance best practices and bring structure into our way of working. All effort is made to maximize the chances for success of working with outside organizations.

Inside our own organization, we often feel that structure is not required. After all, we work for the same organization, don’t we? Thus we forget that we have our own micro cultures within our own organizations: every department has its own vibe and way of doing things.

However, also internally we would do good to actively bridge the differences between departments and thus enhance internal collaboration. Some simple tools as described in my book “25 tips for successful partnerships and alliances” can help eliminate assumptions and bring more clarity to internal collaboration. For example, the needs & contributions matrix (tip 5) is a good start to understand why you both are looking to collaborate. Then agreeing on how to work together (tip 9), helps set expectations and agreeing on a regular communication scheme (tip 7) helps to set milestones and guard progress.

In today’s business world we experience an increasing variety of collaborations between organizations. Collaboration becomes an essential skill you need to flourish in this changing business world. So, why not build and practice our collaboration skills within the safe boundaries of our own organization?

The external payoff from internal collaboration is that it will make us an easier partner to our external partners and a more pleasant supplier to our customers. A true triple win!