Last week I facilitated an alliance creation workshop between two organizations who are in the process of creating a new alliance. These organizations have a long history of working together and they know each other already very well.

Knowing your partner will help smoothen the alliance creation process. When you have worked together in the past, you already know what level of compatibility there is between your organizations. We all have our peculiarities, and so do organizations. You will already know the behaviors and peculiarities of the other organization and their people.

The challenge is to be transparent and open about those behaviors in the alliance creation process. It will help build a solid foundation for the collaboration. Transparency and openness must be a two-way process. A two-way process, because on the one side you need to be careful not to hold back while staying respectful. On the other hand, the receiver needs to be open and show some vulnerability to receive the message correctly. Both parties need to act from the starting point, knowing that even though the words are about your organization, it is not meant as an attack, but as a means to create a better alliance together.

Business is personal, even though an alliance is created between two or more organizations. Thus it is essential to address the personal aspect in the alliance creation process as well and spend sufficient time on getting to know the participants a bit better.

In last week’s workshop, we did so by spending ample time on an extensive personal introduction round, based on Patrick Lencioni’s “childhood exercise.” It is similar to what I do in team development workshops. A joint alliance team is a team, just like any other team. With the distinction that the team consists of people from different organizations.

Such an exercise always leads to eye-opening “aha” moments. It makes participants realize once again that all participants are human and they start to understand the behavior of their partner better.

Next step in such a workshop is to work on aligning the needs and contributions of the partners. This part of the process will continue to require a high level of openness and transparency. Working the Needs & Contributions matrix together is still very much a process of getting to know each better. It helps to create an understanding of each organization’s principles and desires. A worked out matrix will show you the alignment between the partners, potential gaps that need to be resolved and the elements that need to be addressed in the negotiation.

Remember that adequately getting acquainted is essential for every relationship, also for alliances. Jumping in ad-hoc without proper getting to know each other might be exciting in the short term, but it will hamper your long-term alliance success.

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