People and the power of collaborative working
Source: Rail Technology Magazine April/May 2012
Dr Robin Singleton, Associate Director with PSL, emphasises the importance of developing competencies and behaviours for successful collaborative working.
When the McNulty report was published last year, it made numerous references to the benefits that collaborative working could bring to the rail sector.
It said that successful collaboration could improve decision-making and enhance the whole-system approach. It could help increase procurement performance and lead to reduced costs. Supply chain management could benefit through the alignment of customer requirements with service and infrastructure delivery. The report also noted the need for skills, cultures and behaviours to move from traditional approaches to more collaborative approaches.
Such authoritative guidance has stimulated much interest in collaborative working throughout the sector, with many organisations asking what is needed for successful collaboration – and why are skills, cultures and behaviours so important?
Collaborative working is not new. For at least the past two decades it has been well understood that collaboration could increase the competitiveness and performance of organisations, creating additional value for customers. But many forms of partnering and alliancing have been tried over many sectors and over many years, often with low levels of success.
For more successful outcomes, organisations need to utilise a strategic framework for collaborative working and to develop collaborative competencies and behaviours in its people. When properly established, the strategic framework and the competencies/ behaviours become mutually reinforcing to develop longterm cultural.
New strategic framework
PSL – thought leaders in collaborative business relationships for over 20 years – initiated the development of a new British Standard through its CRAFT collaborative methodology. BS 11000 was then jointly developed by PSL and BSI as a strategic framework to build collaborative business relationships.
From this framework, an organisation can assess its own collaborative capabilities, select the right partner, measure joint performance, manage risks together, deliver joint objectives and create additional value – all aimed at successful collaborative working.
New competencies and behaviours
Because collaborative working is an alternative and enhanced business capability, organisations need to develop collaborative competencies and behaviours in its people, so that knowledge, skills and resources can be shared in an environment of trust.
Here are just two examples.
A key competency is an ability to negotiate collaboratively. In a traditional business model, the approach to negotiations could simply be described as ‘winner takes all’. But for a collaborative venture, the adoption of the strategic framework requires the partners to specify their individual and joint objectives at the very outset of the relationship. So the competency required is to negotiate an agreement between the partners to support those objectives – and help build an open, trusting relationship. This competency reflects an ability to place the longer- term stability of the relationship ahead of any short-term unilateral gain.
A critical collaborative behaviour is establishing and maintaining respect between the partners. Building trust is paramount in creating a high-performing collaborative environment and is founded on each partner’s respect for the other partner.
Mutual respect, for example, encourages the sharing of ideas and bringing the benefits of diverse thinking, which lead to innovation and additional value creation. Trust is then developed through an active commitment to the relationship, with continuous demonstration of integrity, openness and honesty.
Extensive experience with business leaders embarking on collaborative working recently has emphasised the priority of developing the competencies and behaviours.
Many organisations in the rail sector have well-established procedures for assessing and developing technical, commercial, financial and other business skills. Fewer organisations have processes that extend to collaborative competencies.
Similarly, while a number of organisations are pre-disposed to collaboration, relatively few define and promote appropriate behaviours.
But the development of people in terms of collaborative competencies and behaviours cannot take place in an organisational vacuum. Business leaders who want collaborative working as an alternative and enhanced capability must first create the right organisational enablers.
This starts from an explicit leadership commitment to a collaborative culture, as well as investing in people, processes and infrastructure. Often outside help is beneficial and Pera – the first management consultancy to be certified to BS 11000 – provides programmes of skills development and business change to help clients succeed in collaboration.
New way forward
Collaborative working offers a powerful capability to build new value propositions that are beyond the capabilities of a single organisation. A new strategic framework is available as a British Standard to help build successful collaborative relationships. But it is important that organisations develop collaborative competencies and behaviours in their people, since – in the end – it will be people that deliver the radical change in the industry, in line with the expectations in the McNulty report.
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