Think about the following for a moment: “Who are your stakeholders?

Wait …

Stop …

Think …

Do you have a clear picture in mind?

Engaging your stakeholders is an essential element of your work. In a collaborative world, your work affects other people and you are affected by others. Both within your organization as well as outside your organization. Those are your stakeholders.

Now you might think, that is a crowd of people! Yes indeed it is. So you have to make a selection when you identify your stakeholders. You have different roles and projects that affect, or are affected by, your stakeholders.

As a teamleader your stakeholders will include your direct reports, your peers, your direct manager and the upper managers. In such a straightforward environment, identifying stakeholders is a relatively simple task.

Working in alliances adds additional levels of complexity to identifying your stakeholders. In an alliance, your stakeholders will include people who are part of the collaboration project. Your stakeholders will still also include your direct manager and some people in your upper management (the executive sponsor). However also people in other parts of the organization who are involved in, or affected by the collaboration project, are part of your stakeholders.

With a two party alliance, you will have stakeholders in both your organization aswell as in your partner’s organization. In a multi-partner alliance or an ecosystem, you will have your stakeholders across the multiple organizations from all involved partners.

This increased complexity in alliances enhances the need to create a clear overview for yourself. I like to think in circles when identifying stakeholders and I create a mind-map to map them out. At the center I look at the core team; those are the people that are on a daily basis involved in the particular project. The next circle contains the extended team. These are the people who are important for the project, yet not on a daily basis.

In alliance projects these first two layers contain stakeholders both within your own organization as well as within your partner’s organization. These are the stakeholders close to you, the stakeholders with whom you interact yourself on a regular basis.

The third layer in the circle contain other people within your own organization who are affected by the project, and the final layer contains the people in the organizations of your partner(s) who are affected by the project. These two layers contain stakeholders that you might or might not have direct access to. They will need to be in your map, as you will have to create a plan on how to engage or inform them, by yourself or through others.

By thinking in circles I aim to bring the stakeholder complexity back to a simple approach. It allows you to check if all stakeholders are involved on every level. By making it visible in a mind-map, it is easy to keep overview and to update and adjust when stakeholders move to a different position.

Within the dynamics of changing projects and organizations, stakeholder engagement is a continuous process, so we’d better keep it as simple as possible!

Now think again about my opening question: “Who are your stakeholders?