A Business Alliance is Not a Marriage – Part 2

A Business Alliance is Not a Marriage More Like Serious Dating… with a Prenup

What kind of team building can we do to get both sides of our business alliance working better together?” “How can we get them to trust us more?” “As partners, shouldn’t we be looking at the balance between risk and reward equally?”

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asked in recent months. The answers, in my not to be popular opinion, are clear, succinct, and a wee bit blunt. Hang in there though. The recommendations that follow can make this pill easier to swallow.

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series: Part 1 ● Part 2 ● Part 3 ● Part 4

Step 4. Keep Blackberry Use to a Minimum When Dating in Your Business Alliance

How many of us have dated via blackberry? Can you imagine what that would look like?

Via text messaging:

“Hi U like food? (reply + or -)”. Click send.

Ring tone (Pink Floyd caller song ID). “Yum Yum.” Click send.

“What? Spaghetti +! OMG. M2.”

I mean really. What kind of dating is that? And yet, just the other day I worked with a company who couldn’t seem to function any other way when it came to communicating with their alliance cohorts, let alone among themselves. The majority of their correspondence (and I do mean majority) has been sent courtesy of that little electronic gadget attached to the hip and sporting a fruity name.

Savvy consumers of project management will tell you to build in as many face-to-face encounters as you can.

It’s not one-way relay of data that builds collaboration, clarifies expectations or results in synergistic what ifs. It’s the ability to engage in conversation, a healthy banter in which each party builds upon the other’s views, explores potential pitfalls and considers remedies. By seeing the other person, you hear what it is they’re saying. Latest statistics out there indicate that non-verbal communication is 92% of the message. Words comprise 8%. Makes you think twice about sending an email doesn’t it?

What to do? Build in frequent F2F (face-to-face) meetings with your alliance counterparts. Project starts, key milestones, project conclusions are typical rules of thumb when convening in person. For longer projects, (often associated with alliances), consider at least one F2F per business quarter and hold that date as sacred.

Alternate travel locations so that one side is not enduring the brunt of trains, planes or automobiles. Supplement F2F meetings with state of the art video web streaming. We’re not talking about the archaic Godzilla style movies where all the lip movements of the actors were out of sync with the voice over. It’s 2007 and they make a plethora of high digital resolution video streaming that you can afford. Let’s put it this way, you can’t afford not to invest in either the travel time or the video streaming.

Step 5. The Team that Needs Nurturing is Your Own

The other interesting item I’ve seen of late is the tendency for organizations to assume their own staff are up to speed, on course and sailing straight ahead… without ever having to meet with one another. In some cases, briefings are about as common as the annual Holiday party. People meet up with their alliance counterparts ill equipped and often, uninformed. There is little or infrequent relay of strategy on latest events which may have some bearing on soon to be scheduled action items. This gap in communication leads to a huge hole in understanding and often results in missed milestones. Ensuring that your own team understands project goals, roles and responsibilities and other critical elements should be your number one priority.

What to do? Meet often and frequently with your team. Consider adopting war room communication strategies. Post information in a common area; make visual; conduct briefings and hold status reports frequently. Update the group on rules of engagement with every change of team member – your alliance counterparts as well as your own.

Step 6. He Who Owns the Pen Owns the Meeting.

Part A. One of the side effects of infrequent discussions are that F2F meetings (or even teleconferences) become packed to the brim with agenda items so voluminous that the meeting ends up being counterproductive. Sally needs 15 minutes to brief the group on market research, but takes 45 minutes instead. Fred is there because he wanted to be “available” should any of the visiting alliance members have a question. Only he starts to pipe in with his comments during several of the sections which ultimately derails the agenda. The investigational review that didn’t happen over the phone on Tuesday has been rolled over to the Friday meeting and so on and so on.

What to do? Own the agenda by crafting it and sending it out to others for their input – which is very different from assuming others will author it. This is not your administrative assistant’s responsibility, it’s yours. You create the agenda, then ask others to modify it (See Step 9- Author-Edit Rule(TM)) Send the agenda out at least 48 hours in advance. Keep it simple; not overly layered. Post it visually. Have someone (who has sufficient backbone and talent to manage in warp speed fashion) lead the group through the action items and capture salient points.

Part B. Real facilitation of meetings takes place before and after the meeting, not during. Call people once you’ve sent the agenda. “Did you get the agenda?… What questions might you have?… Is there anything I may have missed? Bob, I’m looking forward to you taking lead on the second section… By the way, what happened to the patient portfolio market timeline?” Chances are that by checking in with your key stakeholders and engaging before hand, as well as after, you’ll not only ensure better meetings, you’ll also establish better rapport.

What to do? Remember, in order to get to respect, it’s all about creating a series of shared experiences in which congruity of values are first demonstrated. Besides which, frequent conversations allow you to gather data about your alliance counterpart. What is it they must have for this project to be successful? What are their greatest fears? Not only is the data invaluable to you as you navigate toward successful project execution, but you’re also able to swap levels of expertise without a peanut gallery commenting on your dialogue.

Part C. Not every meeting is for everyone. Some meetings are for passing along nuggets of information- coincidentally, we call these informational meetings. It’s OK to have 4 attend or 400, which ever number of people you believe would benefit from the educational value of the information being relayed.

Then there’s the status or brainstorming meeting in which key members provide input on project activities. Project hiccups are identified and cures explored.

It’s the decision meeting that has everyone’s skirts up over their heads. Decision meetings should just be for decision makers – not spectators. For example, if Jonathon is new to the group, he may spend a good portion of his time posturing to any audience in the room not part of the decision making group. I call this the “justification of existence” entrance. What soon happens however is that the justification of existence begins to spread like a virus. After the first 30 minutes of the meeting, everyone seems to be puffing out their chests and claiming their territory. The only thing missing is the mating call of the wild.

What to do? Reduce the numbers attending meetings to those who are the actual decision makers. Our research shows that 5-7 is optimal. More than that and chaos typically ensues with individual agendas getting in the way of the overarching project objectives. Capture salient points in real time. Have a PC and printer available. Recap all action items and assignments while people are still gathered. Get agreement. Ensure there is no confusion. Distribute the draft immediately so that people walk out the door or hang up the phone viewing the agreed upon actions. If needed, follow up with a more formal recap within 48 hours. Keep the recap clear and concise. Who, what and when are really all that’s needed.