“Austerity is over” the government has announced. In the private sector, there are many economic indicators that support this view. The reality in the public sector, however, is that on the ground not much has changed – government departments, local authorities, the NHS and emergency blue light services still have limited resources to work with, and each must maintain a frugal mindset, looking for every opportunity to do more with less.
Whilst joint working is one product of financial necessity, it can also be viewed as organisations that can come together to generate and invest in much more innovative practices.
Strategic alliances can be formed between multiple clients (departments or organisations) to work with a single service partner to gain the benefits of lower costs and more efficient working practices. 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 it suffers from constraining factors which often see actual results being the exact opposite of what was intended, i.e. higher costs, lower efficiencies and client protection of each of its 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 to achieve a common operating model to attain each of their individual goals.
Joint Working Relationships – What You Need for Success
Successful joint working relationships don’t just happen by accident, they require extensive target operating model design, planning, nurturing and a significant commitment from all parties. If you are to work in the spirit of an integrated team, you will need to demonstrate inspiration, trust and integrity: to respect one another in word and deed and take responsibility for your part in both successes and challenges along the way. You’ll need to be able to recognise when the relationship is fairing well, and when some key realignment is required. Further, you’ll need the right form of governance and a strong ‘Relationship Charter’ to hold it all together. Above all, you’ll need true leadership to enable the relationship to work together.
To achieve this, the right kind of behaviours need to be encouraged from top to bottom of each of the departments/organisations. Poor behaviour should be actively discouraged with the appropriate level of recourse applied to deter it happening again without burning bridges.
The Right Behaviours for Successful Joint Working
From the hundreds of relationships we have been involved with getting back on track, the 10 key behaviours we have seen time and again that drive really successful collaborative joint working, are:
1. Collaborative Working Objectives are Being Met
Clearly, if parties to collaborative working are not living up to their obligations, this will have an impact on the success of the relationship. Firstly, you will need to have the right framework in place to monitor behaviours to flag up if and when those collaborative working objectives are not being met. Then you will need 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. Finally, you will need the will and the fortitude to address the issue that encourages positive behaviour change. This should be considered a course correction and not a confrontation.
2. Optimising Collaborative Working Costs
Are your collaborative working relationships looking for every opportunity to save you money? Are you holding them to account when they do not? Do you know what those costs should be?
One of the fundamental issues behind a lack of savings in collaborative working is poor initial analysis (baselining) of costs, followed by misaligned monitoring as the relationship progresses. In addition, to know whether any shared supplier resources are giving you the best of deals, you must:
- intimately understand the costs (and the reasons behind them) that you were paying, on an individual basis, before you got the shared supplier involved,
- have done a thorough market analysis of what others would charge for the same shared deliverables,
- hold shared suppliers to account, should they deviate too far from what has been agreed to be the budget for each project.
3. 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 definition stage and a continuous programme of assessment to ensure current progress is aligned against understood measures.
4. Inherent Commercial Trust
Trust comes from understanding 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, 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 which 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.
5. 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.
Biannual 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 wayward business outcomes back on course.
6. Critical Friend Supplier
It is important that any joint and collaborative working across clients that use a shared service from a supplier, foster a culture of Commercial Trust that allows all parties to freely express their views and opinions 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 will sometimes tell you things that you don’t want to hear, but while uncomfortable to be confronted with, this is a powerful tool for optimising joint working relationships.
7. Collaboration / Innovation
In an interview with Fortune magazine in 1998, 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.
8. Evidenced 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 evidence, for 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 be identified, and true change be set in motion.
9. High Reputation with Peers
We have already identified the importance of Commercial Trust in a relationship, to oil the wheels of the collaborative nature of the individuals in a joint working relationship, to allow for more flexibility and to pull together towards common goals. Trust comes to a relationship in many ways, through deed, through evidencing trustworthiness, through clear communication and through the reputation that precedes you from those who already trust you.
10. 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 goal, then trust will grow, parties will be more open to flexibility (i.e. real-world agility requirements) and all will be encouraged to exude behaviours that optimise performance towards stated objectives.
Joint working should encourage a collaborative approach. After all, it is only though shared goals, aligned governance and an agreed approach that separate clients can find a coordinated way forward when sharing a supplier. 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.
It is therefore vital that, from the outset, an agreed framework of behaviours to be encouraged and discouraged should be set out, a plan for handling undesirable behaviours agreed, and a commitment to one another be entered into in order for the optimum level of collaboration to be achieved.
Photo credit: i-Stock, ALotofPeople