Collaborations are necessary for business success but they can be tricky things. How do you keep everything on track?
“I have found that if you want to improve almost any sector in New Zealand all the roads come back to making the right connections. Virtual connections or direct collaborations between existing entities are the two most efficient and effective ways to get things done,” says Dr Dean Peterson, Group Manager National Technology Networks at Callaghan Innovation.
Peterson says that to get the best out of a collaboration you have to navigate the expected bumps in the road from these interactions and understand where the ‘pain points’ can be.
“Associate Professor Jason Davis from Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD has published papers on collaboration in the USA and has come up with some interesting observations that I would also say are true here in New Zealand.”
First of all, collaborations are not easy to get off the ground.
“What is important is that everyone involved must work a bit harder and longer at the beginning to ensure that the collaboration has a chance of success. The National Technology Network group here at Callaghan Innovation works closely with businesses interested in collaborating. This group acts as the ‘honest broker’ for the collaboration and often ask the hard questions to help resolve any issues. As we have done this a number of times, we know what to expect and how to interact with everybody.
“An interesting observation is that even if two businesses are in direct competition, 80% of the problems they are solving can be done through cooperation without compromising their competitive edge.”
Secondly, the difficulty of the collaboration and complexity of the outcome is directly related to the number of collaborators.
“In some cases, it is necessary to have multiple partnerships working on a single collaborative effort. It is our experience that working with one other partner through a collaborative effort and then shifting over to another partner to complete another aspect of the work is more efficient and easier to manage. Multiple collaborations can often lead to uncertain accountabilities and mixed priorities. Remove the uncertainty and clearly define the issues to ensure that the collaboration flows smoothly and has a structure for useful outcomes.”
Thirdly, the initial understanding of the relationship is very important to the success of the collaboration.
“Make sure and agree on any IP issues ahead of any work being done. Get a professional IP advisor involved early to take you through the steps to ensure that everyone is taken care of and all avenues are addressed. A wise man once said, ‘IP concerns are only raised when success is eminent’. I would imagine that the point of any collaboration is towards some form of success for the businesses involved. Therefore, IP needs to be sorted early.”
Finally, expect the unexpected and be ready to pivot your businesses based on the outcomes of the collaboration.
“Often getting other businesses involved with your business will show you potential directions and ideas your team had never thought of. Sometimes these directions are dead-ends, but sometimes they are the obvious direction that will give you a new level of success that had not be predicted. However, these new directions come with their own set of complexities, new rules for the relationships forward, and potential IP implications, so keep an open mind, be adaptable and remember to enjoy the journey.”
Updated: 10 December 2015