Building Business Growth Through Smarter and More Effective Collaboration

In 2003, I accepted the challenge of turning around a struggling regional business that had lost most of its market share.  Because of the need to rebuild and develop new business growth, I turned my attention to the practice of collaborating and its role in building strategic business and client partnerships in a national and global market.

As CEO and president of this business, I was engaged in many successful collaborations with numerous clients and partners.  All were different…and each had their own complexities and challenges.  In addition to the advantages they brought to the firm, these experiences have been vital to my own personal growth and awareness that “being” collaborative and “thinking” collaboratively can provide considerable value – individually, organizationally, and reciprocally for clients and partners.

As business leaders, our capacity to successfully collaborate with other businesses and professionals may be one of our most influential and most valuable competencies needed to sustain business growth in today’s very competitive climate.

Today, I believe these experiences have not only made me a more effective and caring collaborative leader, but they have elevated my knowledge and capacity to form smarter and more effective collaborations.  I have learned many lessons about how to partner and collaborate well, and I have come to a profound appreciation for the subject as an art and a science.  I find collaboration with other businesses and professionals extremely rewarding;  the greatest rewards are the shared benefits that can come from it when it is done well.

In this post, I summarize three strategies that I have identified and found valuable.  These strategies have been building blocks in the transformation of a struggling company into a thriving, profitable organization with engaged employees and long-term business growth prospects.  They have also given me (and my colleagues) the opportunity to collaborate with many highly talented organizations and professionals;  together, we have produced a remarkable portfolio of successful work.

With an interest to share, I hope these strategies may be of value to you.

Define the values and goals of collaboration:  At times, collaborating with other businesses and professionals can be challenging, and it is not always easily accomplished.  The meaning of collaboration and beliefs about how to collaborate can vary widely across businesses and professionals – with different practices and philosophies, and (sometimes) dissimilar goals and values.  These dissimilarities can trigger a range of issues when trying to collaborate, while varied personalities among leaders can distort how they value collaboration, and how they perceive the risks of collaborating.

That said, as we rely more and more on collaboration to achieve our growth objectives, advance performance, elevate knowledge, and deliver value, it is essential to develop an understanding and define your values and goals upfront.

I suggest the following questions:

  • What does collaboration mean to me?

  • What do I value about collaboration and its role in building partnerships?

  • What are the benefits to the business?

  • What type of benefits would be valued by others, i.e., clients and partners?

  • What systems, processes, and knowledge do we need to have in place to effectively collaborate?

  • What collaborative goals and strategies need to be developed to advance our business growth or new market opportunities?

  • How do we talk about collaboration and promote its values, goals, and benefits to our employees, partners, and clients?

It is essential that we develop a comprehensive understanding and define the values and goals that we as an organization can believe in and can mutually share.

It has been my experience that asking and answering these questions meaningfully will uncover some of the most valuable assets for driving a business plan and vision.  It was this work that helped me cement the values and goals that led to successful strategies and provided me with the ability to talk about the act of collaborating inside and outside the organization, as well as the mutual benefits that could be gained from it.  This work became priceless, allowing the organization and me to build bridges rather than walls, resulting in an increase in business growth and partnership success.

Commit to openness and effort:  Collaborating starts with people, of course, and I believe each person involved needs to be valued, trusted, and engaged if they’re going to collaborate smarter and more effectively.  In the beginning of developing any relationship, it’s important to share the values and goals that are important to you and to your organization, and to be open and respectful of what others share in return.  This will help provide thoughtful and purposeful conversations, and will help others to open up, too.  By doing so, you will expedite the process of identifying mutual as well as conflicting values, goals, interests, and strategies.  It is this openness that will help fortify the beginnings of a relationship that can become a lasting and successful collaborative partnership.

Even with the best intentions, collaborations suffer because of insufficient openness, effort and leadership.

Be committed to putting forth effort.  Effort is key to building successful outcomes and lasting partnerships with mutual respect.  It is also key when pursuing new business growth.  For example, it takes effort to excavate below the surface and uncover, define, and identify the valuable reasons why you should collaborate and the overall benefits and advantages that can come from the collaboration.  This effort can be particularly effective when strategically differentiating your organization or partnership in the marketplace.  And it can provide vital knowledge for developing and writing successful proposals that place you in front of your competition.  In writing and supporting the strategy of many proposals, I have found putting forth the effort to uncover and to explain relevant detail has overcome noteworthy and respected competition.

In addition, I believe smarter and more effective collaboration involves an allegiance to strong leadership.  Leadership that is devoted to the hard work, and willing to navigate complex conversations and sometimes complex personalities.  Leadership that has the commitment to place appropriate emphasis on well-defined partnership goals, methods of communication, clear organizational roles and responsibilities, and defined statements of work. Leadership that will contractually document the process and commitments, and stand by agreements with trust and integrity.

Focus on mutual success:  It has been written that the “act of teamwork” and the “act of collaboration” are two very different things, and many people do get confused between the two.  Maybe this is one of the reasons why the practice of collaboration can vary widely among businesses and professionals.  Are we collaborating, or is it teamwork, or is it something in between?

I have deliberated on this topic for many years, and by doing so, it has help me to continue to advance and refine my own understanding of what collaboration means to me.  I have determined that the act of successfully collaborating needs to be driven by a high commitment to mutual partnership responsibilities, and a caring obligation to work toward everyone’s success.  In my opinion, how we think and care about “partnership success” is a major differentiator between teamwork and collaboration.

I am not saying that teamwork is not effective in meeting the end goal.   I am saying that I believe collaboration must be a “partnership experience.”  A partnership that is willing and open, and values give and take for the greater purpose of not only securing the end goal, but each partner’s success.

Effective collaboration is driven by a higher commitment of mutual partnership responsibilities – we are all valued and engaged to generate a partnership experience that generates mutual trust and mutual success.

To summarize:

I believe the power of collaboration can achieve remarkable things, and can provide amazing mutual benefits…but it comes with a price and a need to invest.

The foregoing strategies have shaped my view of building smarter and more effective collaborations.  I realize that it is takes personal and organizational investment and takes work and effort.  But I have thoroughly enjoyed the many successful collaborations I have initiated and been part of.

As of January 2016 I have completed my tenure as CEO and President, as this company has been successful acquired.  I hope my thoughts are useful in helping others in their own pursuit of business growth, and building successful collaborative partnerships, either with clients, other businesses, or professionals.

About James Hungerford:

James has 30-plus years of experience in the Business of the Arts and the Art of Business.  He has enjoyed diverse opportunities to form, grow and lead companies – beginning with a personal startup at age 25 – providing strategic planning, design, production, logistical and installation services for theater (including Broadway), corporate live events, theme park attractions, film and television, and permanent exhibitions and environments for museums, corporations, healthcare and higher education.

From 2003 to 2015, as CEO and president, James led the transformation of Xibitz Inc. into a thriving multi-service, multi-market company, collaborating with clients and partners to build a notable portfolio of national and international projects.   Attracted by a prestigious body of work and leading position in the marketplace, investors acquired Xibitz in October 2015.

As of January 2016, James has permanently left Xibitz, and is using this opportunity to take a sabbatical, to explore new endeavors that may further enhance his expertise and leadership, and to continue to contribute and be valuable to the industry he’s passionate about.



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