Partnerships and Alliances
Famously, Henry Ford founded a business which owned all the components of its own production. That model, once widely used, no longer works in our networked and global markets. Today, most competitive businesses choose to buy services and components from outsourcers because they know that specialists do the job better, cheaper and with more innovation.
I have been wondering what effect this kaleidoscopic environment of changing alliances and partnerships is having on traditional methods of leadership and management?
Categories of Modern Business
In a recent report by UK Government, four broad categories of businesses were highlighted. In no particular order:
First, those who provide software “platforms” from which their clients operate. Amongst these you might think of Microsoft, Amazon with its cloud activities, web hosting businesses and many thousands of others.
Second, companies that concentrate on providing business to business support services. These include the traditional accountants and lawyers, book-keepers, marketeers, trainers, HR specialists; the range of these services grows ever wider.
Third, are a group of companies that produce the physical component parts of end-products, selling only business to business.
Fourth, the consumer facing companies who bring value to the end-user.
Fast Moving Partnerships; constantly changing alliances
In our world of high-speed commerce, partnerships and alliances between organisations are critical for delivery of end-value. They are also complex and ever-changing. Companies adapt them constantly to reduce costs and increase responsiveness and agility.
Leaders and management processes need to adapt to this web of activity. The effect is normally to generate numerous teams operating in parallel with one-another, each highly task organised, often relatively short lived and focused on clear outputs. Many are composed of stakeholders from several different partners. It has become normal to find oneself working with a partner for one product whilst competing on another. The defence industry has been doing this for years; companies co-operate to build something really complex like a warship whilst simultaneously competing in parallel markets.
Which Companies are good at this?
Our recent research suggests that some companies are much better at this than others. You might imagine that businesses with very clear culture, vision and mission statements and with the discipline of a strong strategy would be best placed to cope.
In fact, this often turns out to be wrong. Companies with very tight structures and procedures find this way of thinking challenging. The required flexibility stretches their sense of internal discipline. Their closely controlled processes become a barrier to the sort of innovation and adaptability that is needed in amidst the kaleidoscope of alliances.
To manage, companies need to adopt new and radical ways of thinking. Most obviously, their speed of decision making must increase whilst internal rules of procedure and mechanisms of commercial confidentiality adjust. The challenge to business culture is huge, but so are the benefits.
Leading Senior Teams in a World of Changing Alliances
The best senior leadership teams in the world are leading the way in this new pattern. How are they doing it?
First, they recognise the need to disrupt not only their competitors, but also their own ways of working. They embrace internal change as eagerly as they embrace external novelty. They are unembarrassed by radical solutions.
Second, they understand that effective partnerships are necessary and that partnerships require teamwork to achieve their desired effect. This leads them to concentrate on team performance at all levels: not just amongst the relatively junior components, but amongst their most senior staff. All too often the biggest hurdle to change lies at Board level. This requires intelligent use of learning and development, coaching and mentoring. The arrival of a coach no longer heralds a last-minute attempt to overturn failure. Today the use of coaching indicates an intention to go to the top.
Third, successful Boards understand the need to lead all stakeholders, not just the people they employ. Their influence extends beyond their own people to partners and allies. The failure of one individual or team is the failure of all. Spotting and developing strengths and controlling weaknesses amongst partners is critical for the health of the enterprise.
Improving the Performance of Senior Teams
Dialogue International offers both individual and team coaching services that reflect these new realities. In particular, our formal UpAGear programme, itself the most recent product of a decade of refinement by our partners at Maximum Performance International (MPI), embeds lasting improvements in people, teams and coaches.
The partnership of MPI, Dialogue International and UpAGear is an enduring one. Its aim is to ensure that the sum capability of the teams we support is always greater than that of its parts.
In this changing world, how sure are you that your teams are really working?