This is one of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Model.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb
Delivering a Collaborative Service
One of the most significant uses for collaboration and cooperation is to address a need that is too large or complex to be handled alone. This is why we get our friends to help us move, why we work with our family to plan a wedding, or we sit on a board of directors to help make our communities better. More minds and more hands make that which is complicated and complex more manageable. The value of this is not lost on businesses, governments or community organizations who look to their peers and colleagues, both in their identified sectors and beyond, to work together to offer a service or product that none of them could manage effectively alone. We call this process a Collaborative Service Delivery, and it can look different depending on the service or product that is being offering. It can be a group of businesses coming together to form a Consortium to launch a video streaming service like Hulu. It can be municipal governments working together to develop and market a shared piece of land for commercial development. It can look like a collective of non-profits providing complementary services to their combined target population to give them a full spectrum of service. However it looks, it involves leveraging the assets of the partners to make a whole that is better than the sum of its parts.
The Value of Collaborative Service Delivery
Leveraging the strengths of those around you is always a valuable strategy to address complicated or complex challenges. There is a power in numbers after all. This power comes from many areas that give fuel and weight to the value of any collaboration. Here are some of the main ones:
Diversity of Perspective – If the collaboration is offering a service to a diverse population, it seems logical that having a diverse perspective to address options, challenges, best practice, evaluations, and timelines, would seem appropriate. A homogeneous view of the problem being addressed will create a homogeneous solution to the that problem, and the solution may only help those who share the homogeneous view. You cannot deliver an expanded service with a concentrated view or perspective. By collaborating with others who have a different perspective, you can better meet the needs of the general population. For more on Diversity of Perspective, here is an article published at Roman 3 Operations.
Specialization – When a collaboration happens, it typically brings together people who have a specific strength or role to play. It is rare for there to be a collaborative service offered by people who have the exact same skills or specialization. If it does happen, it likely is not an overly successful service. Most of the time, collaborative service delivery brings together specialists who are asked to play to their unique strengths and hold up their end. This can look like letting accountants focus on the finances, letting the engineers worry about the science and measurements, and letting the salespeople generate the customer base. This “play to your strengths” collaboration can create some great products and services, but a word of advice, if you have a team of specialist, they are best managed by a Generalist Leader. You want someone who can speak everyone’s languages and who is not seeing the collaborative project through a single lens.
Value – Collaborative service delivery can be a cost-effective and financially stable model to use for new a product or service development. When the partners pool their resources they can cut redundancies, reduce administration costs, leverage combined assets, and expand the marketability of the product or service through their own communication channels. This is a pretty basic economic structure. It is what Co-operatives are build on and how small groups can leverage economies of scale.
The Challenge of Collaborative Service Delivery
There are some small logistical challenges that come with creating a collaborative service delivery. Factors such as cost breakdown, chain of service, creating fair and equable legal/formal partnership agreements, and developing value-based key performance indicators (KPIs) are important aspects to develop early and revisit often. However, these are not really challenges, just steps of the setup and part of doing good business. The real challenge and the reason that many collaborations do not succeed is poor relationship management.
When a collective develops a collaborative service, whether it is a Standards Dealer creating fast food franchises, a region of municipalities creating a municipal corporation, or a group of non-profits building a Value-Added Alliance to support the homeless – The focus needs to be on managing the collaboration as much as it does on managing the service. We at Roman 3 Solutions call this type of role a Collaboration Commissioner. Appointing someone, often a neutral third party, to be responsible for relationship management and ensuring effective communication is kept among the members of the collaboration is critically important.
It is the breakdown of the partnerships that is most often the death sentence for any collaboration. If the collaboration is strong and the partners are engaged, then the service can often pivot to stay relevant if the market shifts. However, if the partners are not communicating, not staying engaged, are silently questioning the whole effort, or are just “free riding” and getting the benefit without playing their part, then the collaboration gets stressed. When this happens, it often means that the team hired to deliver the service has to switch from being externally focused on the service to being internally focused in order to manage the partnerships to keep the whole service from imploding. Consequently, the delivery of service and the concerns of the consumers suffer, which can further hurt the partnership and compound the problem. However, if the collaboration is created with strategic intent and they hire or designate someone to manage the collaboration and someone to manage the service, then the whole collaborative service will be stronger because of it.
Creating a collaborative service is a great way to address complex and complicated gaps in a market. When you collaborate, you can create a more meaningful and expansive service. It can meet a more diverse need, allow specialists to play to their strengths, and be extremely cost-effective. Nonetheless, if you do not invest in maintaining a strong and committed collaboration, you can rob the service of its stability and erode any confidence that the partners or the customers have in the service. The service is the “What” but the collaboration is the “How”. Both are worth doing right.
Roman 3 is an advising and solutions firm that specializes in inspiring progressive action, creating a culture of innovation, and assisting organizations in implementing transformative change. We help you build capacity, collaborate, be progressive, and grow to your full potential. For more information on our services and support check us out at www.roman3.ca