10 Key Behaviours for Successful Collaborative Joint Working

By Allan Watton on

joint workingJoint working is often a product of financial necessity. However, it should also be viewed through a benefits lens – organisations coming together to generate and invest in much more innovative practices.

Strategic alliances can be formed between multiple clients (departments or organisations) to work together to share the delivery of common service areas. These service areas can either be with each organisation providing a specific or multiple disciplines to the others, or perhaps multiple organisations coming together to work with a single service partner.

While both client and supplier consolidation may sound like an obvious solution, especially for larger, more complex or higher risk projects, in real-world application constraining factors often exist. If the expectations between organisations become misaligned over time, the outcome may be that actual results are the exact opposite of what was intended – i.e. you end up with higher costs, lower efficiencies and clients protecting their own sovereign domains.

Such constraints will often be due to genuine misunderstandings of just how difficult it can be to gain alignment between different organisations and/or departments and achieve a common operating model to attain each of their individual goals. But, while challenging, joint working relationships have been developed that have achieved good success.

This article is based on evidence of those successful partnerships to help you succeed in your own venture.

Joint Working Relationships: What You Need for Success

Successful joint working relationships require extensive target operating model design, planning and nurturing. This aspect of collaboration and joint working is a significant commitment from all parties. If you are to work in the spirit of an integrated team, you will need to lead in your own behaviours to evidence you are taking an inspirational, trusting and integrity-based approach: to respect one another in word and deed and take responsibility for your part in both successes and challenges along the way.

Having a transparent and objective mechanism to measure your success will help everyone recognise when the relationship is faring well, and when some key realignment is required. The right form of governance is really important here, as is a strong ‘Relationship Charter’ to hold it all together. Above all, you’ll need true leadership from each of the participants to enable the relationship to work well.

Likewise, poor behaviours should be constructively reviewed and discouraged. This needs to be appropriate and proportional to deter it happening again without burning bridges.

The Right Behaviours for Successful Joint Working

From the hundreds of complex and higher commercial risk relationships we have been involved with getting back on track, the ten key behaviours that evidence dictates drive really successful collaborative joint working, are:

    1. Collaborative Working Objectives Are Being Met

One of the key issues with joint working is a misalignment of commitment – when some parties behave well and deliver what they said they would, when they said they would, and others do not. This is often the first step to the start of ruptures in collaboration.

The right framework being in place to monitor behaviours, to flag up if and when those collaborative working objectives are not being met, is essential. A strong ‘Relationship Charter’, agreed at the outset by all parties, which will provide a playbook for what should be done to address such issues, is also key.

Finally, a willingness in the first instance to have those one-to-one ‘cup of coffee’ conversations. During these, it is important to be constructive when one or more of the parties are perceived to be not pulling their weight. Explore the underlying causes as to why issues are arising and soundboard ideas as to how these might be remediated. It is important that you consider this approach as a ‘course correction’ and not a confrontation.

    1. Optimising Collaborative Working Costs

If you are working with a shared service delivery partner, is your collaborative working relationship looking for every opportunity to improve operational processes to save you money? Are you constructively holding each other to account when it isn’t happening? Further, do you know what your baseline costs were and are you clear on which aspects of costs you are trying to improve?

One of the fundamental issues behind a lack of visibility and transparency over savings in collaborative working is poor initial analysis (baselining) of what the original end-to-end costs of the service were, followed by misaligned monitoring as the relationship progresses. In addition, to know whether any shared supplier resources are giving you good value, it is important to:

    • intimately understand the end-to-end costs (and the reasons behind them) that you were paying, on an individual basis, before you got the shared supplier involved
    • have completed a thorough market analysis of what others would charge for the same shared deliverables
    • hold shared suppliers to account and work constructively with them to remediate the issue, should they deviate too far from what has been agreed to be the budget for each project
    • Identify what works well and analyse to determine whether lessons learned can positively impact other areas of the relationship.
    1. Joint Working Objectives Continually Tested and Aligned Against Business Objectives

To fully appreciate the goals of collaborative joint working, all parties must be able to identify and appreciate ‘what good looks like’. When several clients are involved, this increases the need for clarity at the definition stage and a continuous programme of assessment to ensure current progress is aligned against understood measures.

When you understand what good looks like, it is much easier to set quantifiable milestones and goals to assess progress. This provides the mechanism by which those within the relationship can be measured and managed, even with more intangible behaviours and mindsets that you may be looking to encourage, such as creativity and innovation.

When targets are hit it is important to identify this quickly and respond with appropriate rewards. Separately, if they are missed it’s important to explore the underlying reasons and agree changes to operating governance to reduce the risk of missing them in the future.

Partners should be encouraged to share knowledge and lessons learned to optimise the whole group’s performance. Ideally, any protectionism should be discouraged as evidence dictates this often hinders progress and damages commercial trust between everyone.

    1. Inherent Commercial Trust

Trust comes from each participant doing what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it. In addition, it is important to understand your partners, knowing that they are committed to the same goals as you and for them to have evidenced that they are as willing as you are to work towards them.

The more time you spend with your joint stakeholders, both formally and informally, the greater your opportunity to build stronger working relationships, to understand their culture, their motivations and, therefore, to contextualise their responses in key circumstances.

Through the fundamental preconditions of transparency, honesty, and mutual accountability, stronger relationships often result. Trust may be hard won and easily lost, but the more you understand your partners the greater flexibility you’ll give them. In turn, this leads to fewer misunderstandings and rushed-to-negative conclusions that could threaten both the commercial trust you have developed and the wider project’s direction and output.

    1. Flexible Relationship Charter

How deviations from optimum performance and behaviours are dealt with will be fundamental to the success of the joint working you are engaged in. Relationship and joint stakeholder management are both needed to identify causes of misaligned performance.

It’s important to deal with these issues swiftly and fairly under the direction of the Relationship Charter agreed at the outset, while being mindful of the need to maintain good relationships with partners and suppliers. The charter must also be considered to be able to evolve around the realities of the relationships that drive it forward.

Whilst informal chats and gatherings should be undertaken every couple of weeks, formal quarterly review meetings should be held between parties to assess whether the predicted projection of the collaborative working needs are being met and are still wholly relevant in the current environment of the business objectives, or if the Relationship Charter requires any adaptation to keep up with innovations or to steer unachieved business outcomes back on course.

    1. Critical Friend Supplier

It is important that any joint and collaborative working across clients that use a shared service from a (private or public sector) supplier, foster a culture of commercial trust that allows all parties to freely express their views and opinions constructively, without risk of damaging the relationships between the collaborative working partners or suppliers.

This is achieved through encouraging an honest, open approach that is delivered in a respectful manner. One of the strengths of joint working is the opportunity for a wide variety of opinions to be thrown into the mix, which often lead to greater innovation and/or more rapidly identified issues and solutions for them.

A critical friend (with emphasis on the ‘friend’) will sometimes tell you things that you don’t want to hear. While uncomfortable to be confronted with, this is a powerful tool for optimising joint working relationships.

    1. Collaboration/Innovation

In an interview with Fortune magazine in 1998, the late Steve Jobs said “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

So, to encourage innovation, you need to have the right people, collaborating in the right way, who are all committed to the goal of optimising efforts to achieving a better or faster result. To stimulate innovation, failure must be considered merely a ‘learning step’ along the road to success. Failing fast without recrimination must always be encouraged, as a fear of failure usually holds back those who might otherwise achieve great things.

Creating an environment that encourages innovative behaviours is the goal. The cross-discipline team you created to manage your relationships with suppliers and the other organisations in your strategic alliance – your Intelligent Client Function (ICF) team – will be best placed to determine the level of collaboration and the propensity to innovate that truly exists between you all.

It is important to ensure that they are properly resourced, funded and listened to as their insights are likely to be important to the success of your arrangement.

    1. Evidence-Based Results

There is a chasm of difference between ‘claiming’ and ‘showing’. Claims of goal achievements, or the failures of another party, should always come with objective evidence. Without this, it would be difficult to reward or resort to accountable recourse.

All parties should be encouraged to keep detailed information on any aspect of the relationship that they wish to bring to the attention of others, for only with this information can reasons for good or poor performance be identified and true change be set in motion.

The time when this information will be most useful will be in your quarterly review and refine meeting. This is your opportunity to look at the practical benefits and challenges of the frameworks you have created to govern your relationship and the targets you have set.

If change is needed due to productivity, behavioural issues or challenges of any kind, having objective evidence to hand will help to explore the underlying reasons with greater strength and purpose. Evidence of the need for change will improve your chance of being heard and your requests being acted on while retaining the commercial trust that binds you.

    1. High Reputation with Peers

Commercial trust oils the wheels of collaboration between individuals in a joint working relationship. It allows for more flexibility and the ability to pull together towards common goals. Trust comes to a relationship in many ways, but the fastest way for individuals to trust you, is to do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.

These key behaviours will build your reputation, which will precede you and be shared by those who already trust you with those who are yet to know you.

    1. Internal Team Aligned

Consistency is key to the success of any joint working relationship, as through consistent practices and results comes confidence and greater potential for collaboration between parties.

If the internal team is aligned around a common large goal, then trust will grow, parties will be more open to flexibility (i.e. real-world agility requirements) and all will be encouraged to adopt behaviours that optimise performance towards stated objectives.

It is important to keep your ear to the ground to listen out for issues or misalignments. The wrong kinds of behaviours can hold a relationship back or spread like wildfire, undermining the commercial trust you have been building.

Setting SMART KPIs to measure behaviours conducive to the success of the relationship is good start. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. As time passes and with the will of the parties involved, there is a greater opportunity for strategic partners to gain a better understanding of one another. It develops better lines of communication to understand one another’s language and terminology and to appreciate each other’s motivations.


Joint working should encourage a collaborative approach. It is only through shared goals, aligned governance and an agreed approach that separate organisations can find a coordinated way forward when sharing services and/or suppliers.

However, it’s all too easy for egos, different ways of working, a rigidity of leadership and a desire to retain a greater degree of sovereignty than is desirable in such a relationship, to scupper the best laid collaborative plans.

In a world that is recovering from the stress of Covid-19, the value of truly collaborative strategic partnerships has been revealed. They’re often more forgiving, more flexible, more willing to help one another. The closer the partnership is, the more likely each party is to understand the other and to want to maintain the bond of trust they have built between them, going further than others might.

Such relational positivity requires the right kind of management. It is, therefore, vital to set out an agreed framework of behaviours which you wish to encourage – or discourage – from the outset, to have a plan for handling undesirable behaviours, and to be committed to achieving the optimum level of collaboration and innovation between one another.