Tag Archives: Leadership

Collaboration and the Importance of Leadership

Distorted Pool, Tinderbox Tasmania (Jade Davies 2020).

Collaboration demands effective leadership to drive the right collaborative culture, reinforce collaborative behaviours, and provide effective role models to the team.  The UK NAO makes this point clear:

              “Every case study ranked leadership as the most important factor in developing collaborative relationships.”[1]

A meta-analysis of strategic alliances by Duysters, Kok, and Vaandrager found that the leading causes of strategic alliance failure stemmed from shortcomings in leadership including:

a.           Poor goal/strategic alignment,

b.           Cultural issues,

d.           Personnel issues,

e.           Lack of Commitment.[2]

We know that the right commercial model is crucial to driving collaborative behaviours but we also need to recognise the critical importance of leadership.  In this blog we will explore how leaders can foster a positive culture, drive the right behaviours, and create the best environment to achieve collaborative outcomes.

Leadership Approaches that are Incompatible with Collaborative Ventures

Not all leaders will be immediately equipped to deal with collaboration.  This is particularly true for those leaders that have spent most of their careers engaged in transactional, arms-length commercial dealings.  As we are moving to more complex, fast paced, and emergent environments, leadership models will need to change.  Consider the following comment made to the United Kingdom Parliament by the Director General of the United Kingdom’s ill-fated National Programme for Information Technology (Health):

Managing the National health Service IT suppliers is like running a team of huskies. When one of the dogs goes lame, it is shot. It is then chopped up and fed to the other dogs. The survivors work harder, not only because they have had a meal, but also because they have seen what will happen should they themselves go lame.”[3]

This IT project was highly complex, involved multiple parties, and included an exceptionally diverse range of influential stakeholders, all with divergent needs.  This key message made by the programme Director General unambiguously demonstrated that there was no scope for collaboration and self-interest reigns supreme.  If leaders wish to effectively pursue collaborative ventures, then they must eschew attitudes such as these.

Leadership and Culture

“Leadership sets the ‘tone at the top’, and is absolutely critical to achieving an organisation-wide commitment to good governance.”[4]

Leadership and culture and intricately linked. Leaders set an example to all teams (buyer and supplier) and set the standards of behaviours.  For successful collaboration, this means:

  • Driving enterprise goals and creating a shared vision,
  • Commitment to a no blame environment,
  • Fostering trust between all organisations, and
  • Pursuing a high-performance culture.

Organisation may not immediately have the ‘right’ culture to pursue collaborative ventures and we need to rely upon the leaders of the organisation to shift the organisational culture where necessary.  This can be a significant challenge where ‘business as usual’ approaches typically rely on transactional commercial dealings.  How then should leaders craft the right environment to establishing the right ‘culture and mindset’[5] in the organisation?

Leadership and Change Management

If you want to make enemies, try to change something”. Woodrow Wilson

When organisations need to shift towards a more collaborative approach, it is up to leaders to make this happen.  Leaders need to motivate their teams and sell the benefits of collaboration. This is more easily said than done.  One area leaders need to be aware of in their teams is a ‘sense of identity’. In Kwan’s paper, The Collaborative Blind Spot, she makes the observation that:

Identity provides groups with a center of gravity and meaning in the company, which help build a sense of security or Group legitimacy.[6]

Leaders need to recognise that groups may feel vulnerable when forced to collaborate and therefore leaders may need to adopt a change management approach that steers groups towards enterprise outcomes and create a new high-performing  ‘collaborate’ group.  Whilst being sensitive to group and individual needs, leaders should not allow business units to become their own caliphates and deviate from the organisational vision and desired culture. This is not a ‘one-off’ activity and demands continual attention as observed by the Australian Government’s Guide to Alliance Contracts

The desired culture should align to the behaviours required to enable the key [collaborative] features such as good faith and ‘no disputes’ to operate. Often the desired behaviours are described through establishing an Alliance Charter which documents the alliance values. However, the real culture of a team is demonstrated in how the team behaves and interacts.[7]

Leaders need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that their teams behave and interact according to the agreed values of the collaborative venture. Where the right behaviours are not demonstrated, leaders should make tough but fair decisions, including the removal of personnel whose behaviours are not compatible with the collaborative venture. Such drastic actions though would be futile if the leaders themselves are not displaying the right behaviours and taking a proactive approach to collaboration.  The cliché that, the fish rots from the head down, is therefore highly relevant to collaborative relationships. Leaders must be acutely aware that their behaviours are being closely watched by their own teams and their supplier or buyer counterparts. As recommended in ISO 44001 Collaborative Business Relationships, a Relationship Management Plan should be agreed that [emphasis added]:

identifies the project sponsors or senior responsible officers and reinforce their commitment to the collaborative contracting arrangements.”[8]

Conclusion

As we have stated in these blogs previously, there is no single factor that will ensure success in collaborative ventures. Similar to having the right commercial model, effective leadership is a must for successful collaboration. Leaders set the tone and culture of the organisation and are ultimately accountable for the success or failure of the organisation. To achieve this, leaders must be effective role models, must be committed to a shared vision, and be adept at change management.  Future blogs will explore joint government structures in collaborative ventures and how leaders operate under such arrangements.


[1] UK NAO Good Governance ‘Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships’ (2006) p 8

[2] Kok and Wildeman “Crafting Strategic Alliances: Building Effective Relationships” (1998).

[3] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmpubacc/uc1360-i/uc136002.htm

[4] ANAO Better Practice Guide ‘Public Sector Governance’ Vol 1 (2003) p 16.

[5] US Government Accountability Office Defense Programs and Spending US GAO T-NSIAD-95-149 (1995)

[6] Lisa B. Kwan, “The Collaboration Blind Spot” Harvard Business Review March–April (2019).

[7] Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport, “Guide to Alliance Contracting” opcit, p 35.

[8] ISO 44001 Collaborative Business Relationships.