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Executives learn the art of collaboration

Posted By Barb Francella, Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"I try to teach adults to play together nicely,” Madelyn Yucht, president of performance excellence for Linkage, joked during "The Art and Science of Collaboration” workshop for senior executives.

Collaboration, the number-one competency in the 21st century economy, is not easy, but can be learned and mastered. "It takes discipline and practice,” Yucht said.

During the workshop, a three-minute exercise had attendees choosing partners and sharing information about recent collaborations, including what went well and what didn't go well in their experiences. Instantly, the room's volume increased, with eager conversation developing into impromptu collaboration.

Positive experiences raised included trust, alignment, clear expectations and being heard. Among the negative experiences mentioned were resistance to change, lack of clarity among roles, decision rights and conflict management. All of these, good and bad, are necessary considerations when collaborating, Yucht said.

"Inherent in any collaboration, conflict does show up," Yucht said. Additionally, all relationships are not created equal. There are transactional relationships, collaborative relationships and strategic relationships. While it has become popular to use the term "partner,” that term does not clarify a relationship, she said. Tension arises when one party wants a certain relationship and the correspondent wants another.

A transactional relationship views organizations as easily replaceable, without a need for extensive communication. In a collaborative relationship, there are common goals and objectives and trust is fostered. Strategic relationships need senior leaders to be committed and involved, with organizations that view each other as integral to one another's future.

A strategic relationship model embraces five points to consider: strategic synergy, implementation capability, technical robustness, relationship equity and financial return or value exchange. Speaking about strategic synergy, Yucht said parties must ask themselves if they are both trying to get to the same place. "All too often, we don't have these discussions,” she said. "We make a lot of assumptions. This is the first place where collaborations fall apart.”

Implementation capability also is crucial. "You can have a great idea and not be able to execute it,” Yucht said. "Before you say something is a ‘go,’ take a look at what's needed to organizationally manage a project.”

Technical robustness requires the equipment, services and methods to make a collaboration happen. In terms of relationship equity, collaborative engagements can be viewed in terms of deposits and withdrawals. "We make deposits, but you can count on withdrawals,” Yucht said. "We have to be very conscious about the relationships we build, making those deposits and the power to be drawn in this area.”

Without a conversation about financial return or value exchange in relationships, "we leave a lot of value on the table,” she noted.

If one organization doesn't perceive value where another one does, there is no value, she said. Values must be established early on in the relationship. 

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