One of the most productive and efficient approaches to innovation is through collaborative relationships, an effective way to grow capabilities while limiting risk exposure and resource additions. Many organizations have looked to joint ventures to support tactical business objectives, such as increased distribution, manufacturing capabilities, shared sales capabilities or marketing synergies. Some of these relationships are straight-forward procurement or distributions agreements that provide value to both parties. Start-up collaborations can also provide fruitful partnerships, bringing an entrepreneurial focus and nimbleness along with innovative approaches and solutions to larger legacy organizations.

Another way of considering collaboration is the partnership between two or more corporations, starting at a strategic level. Corporations who work with partners to align on addressing an identified business, and create a shared vision, strategy and solution roadmap, can unlock exponential innovation thinking and capabilities across the partnership. By starting with the business problem, the collaborating organizations can work together to solidify the strategy, and build out the ways of working together, with a goal of co-developing and potentially co-owning the end solution.

Every successful corporate collaboration is based on a key set of principles:

  • Engagement and sponsorship at the leadership level, ensuring that the partnership has the appropriate advocate for funding, resourcing and breaking down barriers
  • Aligned end goals and priorities between the partnered organizations
  • Transparent dialogues about objectives and expected outcomes
  • Joint agreement to ways of working and levels of resource commitments
  • Willingness to be vulnerable and learn from each other

Corporate collaborations are structured to suit the partnership, based on the agreements made about leadership, funding and decision principles. Leadership may shift and evolve between the partners over the course of the collaboration, with one company taking a stronger role at some points. The collaborating partners have to agree early on about decision criteria and go/no-go metrics so that governance is clear. And all parties have to be able and willing to walk away from an idea and a partnership if the collaboration stops adding value.

Having an objective third party to help craft the initial agreements and ways of working can be highly beneficial to organizations looking to engage in corp-to-corp collaborations, in order to both uncover new partnership opportunities and to aid in developing the partnership structure. Many businesses looking to collaborate tend to gravitate to natural adjacencies or existing partners. An outsider will often be more likely to look to the unexpected partnership that may add more value in the long term. Having a neutral party to help navigate the collaborating cultures and define the ways of working can be critical to the success of the partnership, ensuring that the collaboration has an objective point of view working toward the benefit of everyone involved.

Corporate collaborations are not linear. Organizations that embark on these types of partnerships need to be prepared for ambiguity and confusion at times. Any time multiple cultures, strategies, capabilities and leadership come together, there will be natural friction to overcome. But this friction is exactly what can push new thinking and exceptional outcomes.

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