Can collaboration lead us out of recession?
Is collaboration the way out of recession? It isn’t new by any means, but looking back on the last twelve months for my own business we have just started our fifth collaborative venture in that period and have a steady stream of work booked through into 2012.
As I say, collaboration isn’t new. We did it a lot in the logistics industry and I saw more still when I moved over into facilities management (FM). You’d be competing with rivals on one project and maybe subcontracting to, or from, them on another. In both industries we all know each other and people move around from company to company.
Now when I put my purchasing trousers on and head over into that profession collaboration normally starts to get people a little uncomfortable to say the least. Suppliers talking to each other! About our tender! Fetch the red hot poker and we’ll teach them to behave! (Buyers aren’t that bad, trust me, but they do tend to get the twitches over these things).
But collaboration isn’t cartel working nor does it lead to price fixing when we are tendering against our competitors. We all know what a job is worth anyway and all have roughly the same cost bases, so the price we pitch for a job is determined by other factors and, once the sales team have their hands on the bid they all go into play acting mode as our respective teams pass each other in the client’s reception area as we take turns to go and do our presentations.
In my view collaboration has merits as a way of taking us forward. We have been in the trenches for a couple of years now. Some haven’t survived and others are yet to fail. Those that remain will share what market there is, and that market may be a little smaller in volume or revenue terms, but there will still be a market to service.
As is often the case in the sort of situation the business world has been in of late evolution of the supply side needs to match that of the market. Sometimes one will lead, sometimes the other. Doing things differently to meet the opportunities is what will make the difference.
So how can we use an old idea like collaboration? In recent months I’ve heard businesses talking about self delivery more than subcontracting; reverse vertical integration as we used to call it. That’s fine if you can pull it off, but it may not be something that can work for everyone. On the other hand, some form of federal alliance is much easier to arrange and make work. It requires a shift away from traditional master – slave relationships and that means a change in mindset, but we are adaptable people and anything is possible if we are willing to make it so.
We know that the outsourcing model works for people like airlines that employ virtually no-one directly. From this position it isn’t hard to see an opportunity for alliances to grow and morph from shape to shape to meet demand. In the FM world we talk a lot about new ways of working, the office of the future and so on. Perhaps the world will be shaped by a much more flexible model of smaller businesses banding together to suit specific needs?
So is collaboration really the way forward? Who knows, but it’s one way forward and there’s a lot of it about. Can we make it work? Surely yes, because if the politicians can do it I’m sure business people can. And better.