By Alan S. Cohen, VP Enterprise/Mid-Market Solutions Marketing In her brilliant account of Abraham Lincoln’s political ascension to the White House during one of the bleakest periods of American history, Doris Kearns Goodwin details how the 16th President engaged the talents of his strongest political rivals, pulling them into a “dream team” during the darkest hour of the American Republic. Team of Rivals charts how Lincoln created a “collaboration effect” by fostering and communicating a common good to which even competitive, ambitious individuals could adhere. As we face the darkest business climate in a generation, working across corporate and geographic boundaries can play a critical role in determining whether companies survive or thrive during these tough times. With much of the world economy mired in tremendous uncertainties, there exists a unique inflection point for changing, for morphing the traditional rules of competition and commerce. There is now an opportunity for companies that have been rivals to work together, either structurally or in rapidly-formed, short term “mash-ups,” to jointly address the challenges and opportunities in front of them.
Bringing companies together to collaborate requires change in three areas: • Culture • Process • Technology Cultural change is a willingness to look to partnerships and business relationships well beyond the reach of your own company’s resources or your natural ecosystem of trading partners. This could include teaming with a company in one product segment while still competing fiercely with it in other segments. It involves a willingness, an orientation to find talent in new unexpected places and make it part of your business. And as Evan Rosen notes in his book and blog, The Culture of Collaboration, the biggest cultural change comes from building a new trust model for business. The process element envelops a new approach to management and measurement. It means different kinds of work teams – inherently more cross-functional and cross-company. Changing to collaborative processes requires an approach that unlocks the “cognitive surplus” of your own company as well as that of your partners. And it means looking for leadership at all levels of an organization – not just your own and not simply at the top. Entire organizations like InnoCentive have arisen to change the process of company innovation from the outside in. Technology fostering collaboration comes in many forms and devices. It can be team workspaces or new approaches to Telepresence-based experiences. It can be delivered as a service (including web meetings and messaging systems) or by leveraging a converged IP network like unified communications. The technology arena has been particularly challenging for cross-company collaboration because traditional communications and collaboration systems were designed to support a single-company enterprise IT model. Indeed, security requirements actually prevented the federation of IT systems and slowed the pace of application innovation (unlike the “widget” marketplaces you see with Webex Connect or Apple’s iPhone/iPod), restricting it to corporate IT or within the framework of a monolithic enterprise application suite. But now, as my colleagues will discuss in the next few blogs, the promise and reality of cross-company collaboration is at hand. Lincoln’s genius in holding together “the last best hope of mankind” involved tirelessly getting the best results from the talent he had assembled, regardless of whether that talent saw Lincoln and each other as rivals. Perhaps the manifestation of business collaboration shares some of these same breakthrough principles within and across companies. by Alan S. Cohen, VP Enterprise/Mid-Market Solutions Marketing