“Do the people in your company really understand alliance management?” That was a key question Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, a consulting and coaching company specializing in leadership, team, and business development for Fortune 500 and medium-size companies, posed during the workshop “Lean and Agile: Next Generation Alliance Management” at the 2016 ASAP BioPharma Conference Sept. 7-9: “New Faces, Unexpected Places in Partnering: The Foresight to Lead, the Foundation to Succeed” at the Revere Hotel Boston Common, Boston.
“No-o-o-o-o!” came the resounding response throughout the room.
The new instructive workshop is designed to improve the role of alliance managers and familiarize participants with what’s needed today to streamline their alliance management practice. Co-facilitated by Annick De Swaef, CSAP, managing partner of Consensa Consulting, it addresses pressing industry changes, such as the impact of digitalization and cross-industry partnering, through basic questions and key objectives such as:
- Identifying that your team’s current alliance best practices and skills are future-
- Assessing if these practices and skills are lean and agile
The facilitators focused on the three practices they consider critical to a successful partnership: Framework, team dynamics, staying lean and agile.
For a successful framework, your team needs to be aware of strategic investment, the alliance lifecycle, value co-creation, and alliance governance, McDermott said.
“So many clients don’t understand alliance governance. It’s about all the people in the room, different experiences, different cultures, and how I can service this team so we can come together in this challenge,” she added.
Participants at tables were then asked to take part in an interactive game with building blocks, and McDermott linked the unique outcomes of each group to the reality many alliance teams face. “What you think is an alliance may not be what someone else thinks looks like an alliance,” she said. “We are trying to take the burden off of you of being the sole person responsible for the success of the alliance.”
“Poor implementation of the governance structure is the No. 1 reason alliances fail, according to the research,” she added. “Never assume that what you know is what everybody else knows. Your team members need to be able to see the big picture and how alliances fit into corporate strategy. It’s important that you provide sufficient learning material and experiences to other members of the team.”
She then probed another key question: “In general, do you think collaboration is a skill that comes naturally to people?”
“No-o-o-o!” came the cacophonic response again.
“Toddlers don’t collaborate. They have sandbox issues,” she responded. “It depends on how you’ve been socialized. And people have their own points of view and agenda. But you can learn how to get better.”
Fundamental to good team dynamics is the concept of the ladder of trust; sensitivity to cultural differences; a networked organization; and collaborative skills, De Swaef added. Pay attention to spoilers of those healthy team dynamics, such as:
- A lack of trust
- Communication that is not always open, which could be cultural
- Ill-defined responsibilities
- Differences in company sizes, power struggles
“An alliance manager is not a therapist. Never assume people will behave collaboratively,” she said. “Make sure you create those skills in a safe setting. Give them training on conflict management from the start. Reward your team. Keep the team dynamics flowing in a positive way. And award problem solving, which is often not done.”
The third critical component is to stay lean and agile, she advised. Lean is about proceeding without wandering around and following up with steps in the shortest possible ways. Agile is as fast as possible, but in an interactive way where you reduce the risk for your organization, she continued. “It’s important to be a shape shifter when you are working with a partner. You need to rejuvenate your alliance practices,” she added, while citing the analogy of the hare and tortoise.
“There is so much regulation and compliance that the culture creates the tortoise,” said McDermott of the challenges that arise particularly in life sciences and health care. “The question becomes, are you so tied to that that you can’t become agile” she continued.
“When doing alliances with IT, not many companies are turtles. Those kinds of alliances are coming into the [biopharma] industries,” De Swaef noted. “My way or the highway is over.”
Empower your teams, map out processes, and figure out where they can be more efficient, innovative, and creative. “You are not a therapist, but you are a change facilitator,” observed McDermott. “Think about the least developed competency or best practice in your organization, and then go to the ASAP sessions and find an answer. ASAP is really in the process of trying to connect with you to develop your teams and provide training so you can make sure your teams can learn and connect with each other with a lean and agile mindset.”