Secrets of successful alliances

May 17 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Personal relationships and informal communications are the keys to making alliances and partnerships work. Now a new report from executive education and research organisation, Roffey Park, suggests practical ways of making such collaborations work better.

Called "Supporting Collaborative Working in Business Alliances and Partnerships", the report examines the organisational and 'people' challenges of alliances and partnerships, the skills and attitudes needed for collaborative working, the formal and informal processes required and how to motivate, support and develop alliance workers.

"Creating an alliance/partnership can be an attractive option for organisations that want to enhance their capability, resources or effectiveness," said the report's authors, Wendy Hirsh, Valerie Garrow and Linda Holbeche.

"The problem is that organisations tend to concentrate on the formal processes relating to governance and the monitoring of work.

"However working relationships and other informal processes at each level are equally important. It is this combination of formal and informal processes that can ultimately make or break the alliance."

To be effective, the report highlights that alliances must be founded on a strong business logic and there should be clarity at the outset about what is going to be done, who is going to do it, what information will be shared, the standards of work expected and how charging regimes will work.

"If the business case for the alliance/partnership is not sound, then no amount of goodwill can make it really work," it asserts.

The report examines the specific - and different - challenges that initiators of alliances, operational managers and front line workers have to overcome.

These include setting up the alliance/partnership, which is often more problematic than expected; establishing trust between the parties; creating governance structures and monitoring processes, so that employees understand what is expected of them; managing the partnership and resolving practical problems.

And it warns that cultural differences between the partner organisations - such as the speed of decision making, the degree of bureaucracy/hierarchy and attitudes to quality - can cause frustration, as can individual differences of work styles and personality.

"People have to be realistic that different cultures may exist between the alliance/partner organisations and they have to work across these," said the authors.

"It can be especially difficult for managers when your quality of service depends on staff employed by the partner organisation, who are outside of your direct control."

Establishing and maintaining good personal relationships and informal communication is also critical. Managers and leaders should role model good relationships with their opposite numbers in the partner organisation and with their own staff, the report advises.

"Formal processes may be the backbone of alliances/partnerships but effective personal relationships provide the flesh on the bones that maintains the spirit of the alliance and enables people to work together as colleagues," said the authors.