Building Stronger Alliances: 5 Key Questions for Success
It’s obvious these days that organizations of all types, across all sectors, are squeezed to get more value from the resources that they’ve got in hand. With the increasing complexity of the issues to be addressed and solutions to be offered, it’s also natural that alliances between various players are on the rise. Increasingly, more of these alliances represent a collection of multiple stakeholders, and as such, are increasingly challenging to initiate, design and sustain for the longer term.
Regardless of the in inherent challenges, the value of alliances, when they’re properly structured, can be significant. Not only do they provide access to additional resources such as dollars, expertise and manpower – they often can be used to mitigate risk, enhance reputation, achieve cost savings and greatly magnify impact.
In my strategy facilitation work with organizations that are deepening their partnerships, or broadening their use of alliances, I’m more convinced than ever that critical ‘front end’ conversations need to take place, in transparent fashion, to ensure a successful launch and longer term sustainability. Here are five key questions to ask yourself as you walk down the ‘engagement aisle’.
- Are we clear on why we are entering the alliance? Each potential partner needs be crystal clear on their own business strategy and how entering an alliance is a viable approach to realize part of that strategy. It needs to be remembered that entering an alliance may be only one of many options available to advance a specific priority. This information about ‘strategic intent’ needs to be shared early so that each party is aware of the other’s rationale for engagement.
- Have we identified our desired outcomes? Potential parties need to share their desired outcomes early on in the process – both tangible and intangible. Getting agreement on the purpose of the alliance and its key aims will set an effective foundation for more detailed conversations about specific terms and conditions. You can be guaranteed that the context within which your alliance lives will evolve over time given today’s rapid pace of change. All the more reason to have this conversation on a regular basis.
- Are the right partners in the mix? Consider adding a different or broader range of potential partners rather than those that you may have worked with in the past or are with whom you are most familiar. Research shows that the biggest cause of failure for alliances is not technical but cultural. Compatibility of organization cultures, combined with members’ previous experience and style, sets the tone for collaboration. Diversity however, when cultures can be aligned, strengthens an alliance and enhances the possibility of innovative solutions.
- Have we articulated our fundamental assumptions? Engage potential partners in jointly examining fundamental assumptions about the alliance as well as potential constraints to success. Too often, alliance members enter the arrangement with differing unstated assumptions and are unclear about the barriers that may, or will, affect the relationship and the work. Take time to clearly articulate the assumptions and potential constraints that will affect the likelihood of success.
- Have we shared ‘who we are’ with our partners? At the end of the day, successful alliances are built on successful relationships. It’s impossible to foresee all possible points of difficulty or challenge through contractual arrangements, memorandums of understanding or detailed project plans. Take time, early on, to have conversations about characteristics of your organizations including key priorities, culture, values and operating principles. You’ll also want to gain greater understanding about your colleagues’ working preferences and styles so use of specific tools such as Myer-Briggs are very helpful in strengthening interpersonal relationships during early stages.
The use of multi-stakeholder alliances to successfully address challenging issues and realize key priorities will only continue to grow. Considering these key questions, in the early stages of alliance formation, will help strengthen the likelihood of longer term success.