In a recent virtual coffee call, I was asked how to organise a governance structure for a collaboration of 10 competitors. It was a situation in which the companies agreed to work together to solve a technical challenge that they were all facing. The final solution would be to benefit all of them. During my conversation with the initiator, some additional questions came up including the question on how to ensure that all parties involved trusted the initiating company and their intentions? After all, the initiator was one of the biggest players in the field.
Here are four elements I suggested to implement:
Focus on the Goal
What was it that you wanted to accomplish and what were the benefits for each of the parties involved? In our conversation I was looking for the alliance value proposition and in particular, learning what the value was for the end-user and for each of the parties involved. The value proposition was a foundational element of the overall goal of the alliance. Focusing on that goal and its value proposition was imperative while moving forward.
Assign an Alliance Manager
The alliance manager acts as the conductor of the orchestra and in this case there were a large number of independent musicians who all wanted to blow their own trumpet! The role of the alliance manager in this collaboration was critical. The trust question came into play again. Where should the alliance manager come from? Should it be someone from the initiator, who was one of the largest companies in the collaboration? The risk might have been that the other parties were afraid that the alliance manager might not be impartial. The best solution was to probably hire an independent person for the critical role of the alliance manager.
To keep stakeholders involved it is essential to have good regular communication, and the same applied to this case. As I always say in this context: communicate, communicate, communicate, and if you think you have communicated, then communicate again. It’s important in bi-lateral alliances, let alone in an alliance with 10 competitors. Regular, transparent communication is vital in a competitive collaboration!
Establish a Steering Committee
The purpose of the steering committee is to coordinate the partnership and to make sure that everyone is aligned on vision, goals and metrics. The steering committee reviews the progress of the alliance and intervenes if needed and was necessary in this case. Especially in a collaboration among competitors, it is essential to stay aligned.
These were my initial suggestions. As we discuss extensively in our Alliance Masterclass, there is, of course, more to governance and the art and science of successful alliances. What would you suggest to add to this basic structure?