It’s often said that 1+1=3…or 11, or 100. Or some other number greater than 2. But can 1+1=1.5, or even -1?
Android’s Awkward Ecosystem
In case you’ve missed it, there is a lot of buzz building around Google’s (and HTC’s) coming release of an optimized Google Phone called Nexus One.
Of course, there are already lots of phones from different manufacturers, running on different networks, that leverage the open source Google Android mobile platform.
However, these many variations on the Android theme have fragmented and debased the original Android code base to such an extent that Google has decided to create a phone of its own (with HTC’s help) – one that will showcase the full potential of the Android platform and its ability to outpace the iPhone.
Boeing’s Partner Blunders
If that’s too much tech-speak for you, let’s talk about the airline industry. After two years of delays, Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner recently took its first test flight. The Dreamliner has been much anticipated because it uses composite materials and other state-of-the-art technologies to lower the airplane’s weight and improve fuel efficiency, thus allowing for greater profits and more point-to-point travel (i.e. fewer layovers for passengers).
It’s not simply the technology, however, that will make the Boeing 787 a game-changer. The plane relies heavily on custom-designed parts and components from suppliers – in other words, a tightly integrated supply chain – to realize its efficiency gains. Ironically, this reliance on partners is also one of the reasons the 787 has faced so many long delays.
Making Collaboration Work
In the cases of both the Android platform and the 787, collaboration has been strategically significant. Indeed, both products would be sunk without it.
However, collaboration has also been a source of great angst for both companies, causing a degradation of the original product in the case of Google, and creating inordinate rollout delays in the case of Boeing.
So, even pointing to two rather rectifiable examples, we can safely say that 1+1 often does equal something less than 2.
If you’re a social entrepreneur, the lesson here is to pick partners, funders, employees and even volunteers carefully. The presence of a warm body or the promise of cold hard cash doesn’t guarantee goodness, regardless of how desperate you might be for support.
When it comes to picking collaborators, patience is a virtue, and a thoughtful and measured approach to how your organization will collaborate with others will pay dividends. Here are a few tips for making collaboration more successful.
- Always know why you’re collaborating. Early in an organization’s career, it’s tempting to collaborate with anyone and everyone who takes interest in your cause. But if you don’t know why you’re engaging in a collaborative relationship, that’s a problem. These pseudo-partnerships easily create a drain on your scarce resources without adding great value.
- “Tier” your collaborative relationships. As an organization gains momentum, requests to collaborate become more and more frequent, and it’s often hard to turn people away. Find a way to tier your collaborative relationships, in much the same way you make some people employees and others volunteers. This will help you be more disciplined in the resources and time you invest in each one.
- Understand what you need from others and what they need from you. Understanding why a collaborator wants to partner with you is just as important as understanding why you need them. If you can’t provide what they’re looking for, the partnership won’t be mutually beneficial and therefore isn’t a good fit.
- Clarify expectations but without being overly rigid. This is where really working through some sort of agreement – whether a partnership, volunteer, or grant agreement – is so critical. Putting expectations down in writing brings potential conflicts to light and creates a greater sense of mutual investment and accountability. That said, you can be too careful in dotting every i and crossing every t. Agreements that attempt to codify every last bit of a relationship can actually kill the spirit of collaboration and trust.
- Map out a process for settling disagreements. If a partnership is of any value whatsoever to the parties involved, there will be problems and they will become emotionally-charged. Work out in advance a process for escalating and resolving issues. Make it known what kinds of problems will make or break the relationship, and agree on separation terms that will make a potential end to the collaboration less painful and more collegial.