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Updated: Mar 24

I think all of us have been involved in a business relationship that took more energy than produced leverage or value. Most people and organizations fail to appreciate the amount of mutual effort it takes to create a successful collaborative relationship. They're also too slow to address issues, especially early relationship issues, and as a result, they never realize the original objectives of the relationship. Collaboration is difficult to produce mutual value, in fact, one Harvard study confirms that 70-90% of all mergers and acquisitions result in failure. This study is consistent with most others on the topic.


Every relationship is tested at some point and how the parties navigate that first test often determines the success or failure of the venture longer term. If there's a long history of success and goodwill, difficult issues can be navigated and resolved without too much trouble. If the relationship is new and the emotional bank account is small or overdrawn, then even minor problems can be difficult to navigate and resolve.


It doesn't matter if it's a large M&A integration or two sales professionals collaborating on a specific project, people have to feel they are getting their expectations met and that they are respected partners. Here are five common ways collaborative relationships often break or fail to meet objectives and expectations.

  1. Lone wolves - Some people and organizations are just not programmed to work with others. They might be extremely accomplished in their area of expertise but they just don't collaborate, communicate or work well with others. In these relationships sometimes partial leverage can be salvaged, but it usually takes more energy than the output is worth.

  2. Misaligned motives - When people want different things, collaboration and leverage are always elusive. This usually occurs when two well-intended organizations or people fail to explore how the collaborative relationship will specifically work. Sometimes with further exploration barriers can be resolved with deeper exploration. Find a win-win or move on.

  3. Bad actors - These people will tell you all you want to hear, but their actions speak volumes about their real motives, and those motives aren't aligned with yours. You need to dissolve and untangle yourself from these relationships ASAP! While I believe "Bad actors" are the most unlikely of the five problems, it is often the first thing people falsely identify as the problem.

  4. Poorly understood incentives, roles expected contributions, and objectives - It's not uncommon for highly skilled, well-intended people and organizations to form a partnership and have little to no clue as to the operational specifics. If not caught early, bad feelings and wrong assumptions can harden and it will be difficult to get an otherwise good partnership on the road to delivering mutual leverage and value.

  5. Incapable players - some people and organizations just aren't very good at what they do. They might have a deficit of skills, talent, or controls, but as a result, they won't be able to deliver what has been agreed to. Sometimes these dysfunctions can be resolved with time and effort, but if you don't have time or have better options immediately available to you, best to move on.

The best collaborative relationships have a constant bi-directional flow of information, respect, feedback, learning, and expected value. This generates trust and a deeper commitment to the future relationship. Many people and organizations fail to appreciate that new relationships and perceptions are fragile, and as a result, they can be careless with their words and actions. Perceptions usually come before outcomes, so getting off on the right foot and building confidence and respect early are critical to success. Being late with a deliverable or failing to return a phone call, email, or text message are quick ways to telegraph your new partner is not that she is not important. Under promise and over deliver early to demonstrate the importance of the relationship and respect for the individual. There are people and collaborative relationships that can change your life for the better and take your business to another level, but you have to be open, decerning, and work on being a great collaborative partner yourself. In my 22 years of professional coaching, I have benefitted more than I'm fully aware of from my collaborative relationships. I also think it's very likely I missed opportunities with great people.

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