Collaboration is a strange thing. Most of us realize that it is important, yet many people feel that collaboration is a natural thing and that it is something we just “do”. In business, this can be a risky approach.

Diving into a collaboration without preparation is like jumping into the water without knowing how to swim. If you are very lucky and tread water hard enough you might survive, otherwise, the results will be less lucrative.

We know that alliances can be high risk; we need to know how to swim in the challenging waters of the collaborative business world before diving in. Hence we use best practices based processes and tools to limit the risks and enhance the chances for success.

More and more people and companies understand that to create and manage successful external business collaborations, we need to prepare, use tools and follow best practices based processes. Over the years, creating and managing alliances has grown into a separate profession. We’ve learned how to swim and where to find the life vests.

One of the best practices is to start an external partnership early on by clearly identifying what the partnership will bring to each of the partners and what each of the partners will bring to the partnership. There is a simple and powerful tool to support this step of partnership creation.

When applied well, this step will help to create a solid foundation for the partnership with clear expectations whereby each of the partners knows what to expect and what is expected from them.

The moment we collaborate with other departments of our own organization, we expect our colleagues to naturally be on the same side. Preparation is often limited to the tasks at hand and people fail to explore what is in it for both departments. In fact, we are diving into the water without knowing how to swim. This leads to confusion and frustration in later stages of the joint project.

Many of the same principles we apply in external collaboration can be applied with internal collaboration between departments. Investing a little time and effort upfront to understand each other’s needs and contributions can save you from confusion, misunderstandings lost time and frustrations later on in the project.

Remember the wise words of Henry Miller:

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.

A solid preparation will help us to prevent confusion. So, do invest that time the moment you are preparing for your next collaboration, internal or external. Try it and use this contribution matrix to help make clear what each of the partners will contribute to the partnership.

It’s simple, powerful and enlightening and remember to have fun while doing the exercise!