Building Alliances


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Collaboration is easier than it sounds. Successful collaboration takes time and focused effort. But where to start? Here are some tips on how to build effective alliances across divisions.


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Building Alliances

  1. 1. Building Alliances Across Divisions By Maya Townsend Several weeks ago, a distraught vice president A much more compelling rationale is: “The X called. His organization had just been Department works with our customers every day. restructured. He needed to integrate his new If we don’t develop close relationships with the divisions quickly and help them collaborate with department, we’ll never know enough to please his existing organization. The problem: He had our customers.” This rationale lays it all out on inherited a group of people who didn’t the table: what the partner has that is critical, understand why the change had happened and why it is needed, and what consequences come were struggling with why they should redesign from failing to collaborate. their processes to accommodate the new organization chart. In addition, they were used to Coming up with this kind of business rationale working alone and saw no reason to collaborate for collaboration is the first step in building a with their new peers. The VP had to help them successful relationship across divisions. To find the way while continuing to raise the clarify the business rationale, answer these performance bar. questions: This situation is not unusual. Technology • What is at stake for the company and executives live in a world of change where the customers if divisions don’t collaborate only constants seem to be the need to boost effectively? performance, increase productivity and • What does each group have that the collaborate with others. In this highly matrixed, other group needs? integrated, driven, global environment, there are • Why are others counting on these too few people and too much work for us to groups to perform? section ourselves off from others. We rely on our • What could happen if both parties don’t colleagues to share knowledge, solve problems collaborate effectively? jointly, provide data and information and support our work. In return, we do the same. Build Individual Relationships to Build Group Relationships Yet, collaboration is easier than it sounds. Simply agreeing to collaborate doesn’t make it Successful collaboration takes time and focused happen. Successful collaboration takes time, effort. But where to start? Here are some tips on interaction and effort. how to build effective alliances across divisions. If an organization needs synergy between Start with the Why divisions, individuals from both divisions must People have a lot to do. If they don’t truly form good relationships. This doesn’t happen understand the importance of collaboration, they overnight. Relationships grow when people won’t do it. For example, someone might agree develop rapport and trust. This comes over time with a vague rationale for collaboration, such as, as people learn that they root for the Red Sox, “It will improve our customer service.” But that share a passion for old movies or enjoy doesn’t give a person the motivation to insist on vegetarian food. They learn one another’s styles collaboration and work across boundaries when and come to know that one likes to get right deadlines loom and the pressure is high. Why down to business while the other enjoys take time for some fuzzy concept that may or not engaging in small talk before beginning work. be achieved?
  2. 2. All of these understandings lay the foundation • What roles and specific responsibilities for trust in the relationship. Trust is built when will each group perform? people can count on each other to do what they • What are the rules of engagement? In say they will do and to act with positive other words, what is the expected turn intentions. The best way to build trust is to be around time for tasks? For trustworthy. By delivering on commitments, a communications? partner models the way for the two and sets the • How often will groups meet? Who will tone. If a commitment can’t be honored, a convene, plan, and facilitate those simple, proactive telephone call to explain the meetings? situation and develop a contingency plan keeps • How will decisions be made? Which the partnership positive. decisions need to be escalated? To whom? Once rapport and trust are in place, individuals find themselves with powerful allies in the other Prepare for the Unexpected organization. These become people to talk with It’s a rare organization that doesn’t get thrown a when organizational politics become confusing, curveball once in a while and a rare alliance that priorities shift or unique circumstances require clarifies everything as well as it needs to up front. special action. There’s an added benefit to To develop a truly extraordinary alliance, get developing these relationships across divisions: clear up front about how to handle People can develop friends at work, which, organizational changes or group according to a recent Gallup study, is the most misunderstandings. What process will be used important indicator of job satisfaction. to manage through these challenges? What is the escalation procedure? Get Specific About Execution Many find crafting visions and building Take the Time relationships to be exciting and engaging. The The final tip for creating successful alliances work of execution can be more challenging. Yet, across divisions is simple, yet seems to seeing a vision through to completion requires a challenge many: Take the time to make it work. strong sense of discipline. This is an area where Groups can do this by scheduling periodic offsite many alliances fall short: They fail to get specific retreats to refocus, plan for upcoming work, and about how they’ll produce. resolve any accumulated tensions. Onsite meetings to share best practices, evaluate Getting specific about execution doesn’t need to progress, or identify improvement opportunities be painful. In a meeting with key representatives can also work well. These ongoing connections, from both groups, identify: conversations and commitments can make an alliance thrive. • What are the short-term and long-term goals for the collaboration? Maya Townsend, founder and principal • How will both parties know that the consultant of Partnering Resources, builds goals have been achieved? aligned, focused organizations that execute their • What process will be put into place in goals more effectively. order to support successful completion of work? © 2007 CXO Media Inc.