Collaboration and close working between partner (and even competitor) companies is one of the industry’s hottest topics, but sharing information and opening ourselves up to risk is a huge concern. FlyPharma Chair Mark Blanchard outlines the best ways to fight our fears and achieve greater success together – a key focus of this year’s conference.
Recently I have been reflecting on my career, which has mainly focused on working collaboratively with customers and suppliers, and thinking over some of the recurring themes from conferences such as FlyPharma. How often have you heard or said this yourself: “If only they’d told us, then we could have avoided this situation/we could done this in half the time/we could have hit the deadline?” Too many?
It seems common sense that the more information made available to share between parties, the more data there will be to create the best solutions. The more you know, the better – you can make more informed decisions, you can respond faster to situations, and you need to expend less effort in doing so. If you are nodding in agreement to this, then why isn’t it common practice?
Why is information-sharing between companies so painful? Is it driven by fear? Fear of giving away company secrets (because we don’t actually understand what is intellectual property and what is not, and therefore say nothing); giving away an advantage (that could be used against you in the future); showing vulnerability (covering your back and not admitting any liability); or a default response to avoid what is seen as unnecessary effort?
So, we must find a way to overcome these fear factors. How can all parties create a safe environment to feel safe sharing information, or be able to challenge a request without fear of recriminations? What systems and processes are needed to reassure everyone that their information will be used for the good of the collaboration and not for any other means?
- Align on what the purpose of the information-sharing is
What information is required and why? Being transparent about the context and reasoning for the requirement helps everyone understand how the information will be used and why it is important to the receiving party. It also enables both parties to potentially identify alternative solutions to meet or exceed the requirements, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Agree the boundaries of information-sharing and the ‘rules of engagement’
This should also be supported by a pragmatic framework which underpins transparency. I have found that just saying “we can’t share this” is not helpful. Again, context and reasoning enable the other party to understand the reasons and help each side find other solutions to achieve the desired outcome.
- Check your assumptions
None of us are mind readers, and in my opinion the number one killer of a collaboration is one party assuming they know what they are receiving and what the other party wants. How can you? You might initially feel a little awkward or even vulnerable asking what you believe to be a stupid question, but it is highly likely that you will be surprised by the answer you get. It may well be something you didn’t expect or, worst case scenario, your assumption has been validated. I have always found that this enquiry and curiosity is far from an unnecessary effort, but actually helps build the trust required to ensure collaborations are effective.
Collaboration will always be a tricky subject, and while everyone tends to agree that working more closely with your partners is a good thing, putting it into practice is a different story. If this is an area that you wish to develop in your business, I would strongly recommend attending the FlyPharma Conference on 6-7 June and seeking further advice from the event’s expert speakers, as well as engaging in positive debate with your peers during each day’s highly anticipated panel discussions.
Mark Blanchard is Director of Orca Partnership and Chair of the FlyPharma Conference. Click here to view Mark’s speaker profile.