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Playing with Blocks—and Teams: How to Build Together for Alliance Success

Posted By John M. DeWitt, Monday, April 1, 2019

Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, kicked off her preconference session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by dividing the attendees into teams of two and three per table, instructing them to do something that you usually won’t find people doing in a professional setting: play with blocks. Her instructions were simple: Build the tallest tower, with the smallest number of blocks. With that said, McDermott set them to work.

Given that this occurred at a conference dedicated to business collaboration, one might think that a fair number of the teams would begin to work together to win the challenge at hand. However, nobody decided to collaborate. Several groups did discuss the possibility of collaboration, but all ultimately decided against it, for various reasons. Fifteen minutes later, two teams stood at the top of the leaderboard, tied for first. That is unimportant, though, because the key here is in the lesson learned.

McDermott specifically asked, once the toys were put away, if any groups had elected to collaborate. When everyone answered no, she revealed that she was not surprised in the slightest by that answer. In fact, she explained, she has done this same exercise with the blocks all around the world, and just about every group refused to collaborate. This, she continued, was no fault of ours. “Collaboration,” she said, “is not a natural instinct.” This, then, makes the work of alliance management even more meritorious than one might ordinarily think. The simple fact that forcing people to work together goes against our natural instincts makes the work that alliance managers accomplish all the more noteworthy. And it helps to underscore the non-collaborative behaviors faced by collaboration leaders and teams every day.

McDermott then went on to describe three categories, or “buckets,” as she called them, of alliance performance. These are the framework of the alliance, the team dynamics within the alliance, and how lean and agile the alliance is. She then asked the attendees to fill out a survey, with several questions relating to each of the three buckets. These questions were meant to assess areas such as communication, commitment, conflict resolution, and company culture. The idea behind surveys like this, she explained, is to gauge how an alliance is doing and identify how their performance can be improved. Once everybody had filled out the survey, she asked them to share their answers and wrote them down. While all of the questions yielded more positive answers than negative ones, the lowest numbers of positive answers (it was a simple yes or no survey) were all in the “framework” category.

She closed out the session by stressing that an alliance manager is more than just a mere manager. An alliance manager is “a teacher and a coach.” She explained that it cannot be assumed that everybody engaged in an alliance knows how to live productively in an alliance team. Therefore, one must incorporate training and learning into the alliance lifestyle, and encourage people to learn by doing.

See more of the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on the ASAP blog and in Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  collaboration  communication  company culture  conflict resolution  EquiPro International  framework  Lynda McDermott  team dynamics 

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Mapping a TE-AM Road to Successful Alliances

Posted By Lynda McDermott, CA-AM and founder of EquiPro International, Ltd., Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Next Gen Alliance Management TE-AM workshop which recently took place at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference, delivered an initial message, through a business exercise, that “Study after study has shown that collaboration is not a natural phenomenon. It’s more normal to be competitive or to work within your team (tribe).”  Therefore, when you work in an alliance management role it is essential that you facilitate and advocate for an organization-wide alignment of all people who support alliances and partnerships.  If you cannot create a collaborative corporate culture across your own organizational functions how can you expect to create successful alliances with your partners?

 

Every person who works on an alliance, beyond those who are ‘officially’ in the alliance management function, need to understand their organization’s alliance strategy and values, engage in developing alliance team skills and share lean and agile alliance common practices and processes.  And as an organization’s alliance investment strategy becomes more complex with multi-partners, and the number of alliance relationships increases it is essential that there is a common understanding and set of best practices across the organization in three critical areas: strategic framework; team dynamics; and lean and agile processes. Each of these areas have benchmark assessments that can be used to identify the largest gaps keeping your organization from becoming a Preferred Alliance Partner. For example, workshop participants were asked to identify their organization’s alliance best practice: “We assess alliance performance and develop action plans to improve success”.  The lowest ranked item on average was: “We are fully committed to being a preferred collaborative/alliance partner.” These assessments provide a roadmap for improving cross-functional alliance team performance across the organization.

 

The pre-conference workshop provided an overview for a new ASAP offering called TE-AM Training, which is a one-day in-house workshop customized designed for alliance managers and alliance extended team members in an organization to help them answer the question:  how do we move from a loosely-collaborative group to one that effectively functions as a community of alliance practitioners that are aligned to actively collaborates with our partners?

 

Check out these related blogs that appeared on the ASAP Blog:

 

‘Collaboration Is Not a Natural Phenomenon’: Mapping a TE-AM Road to Successful Alliances, Part One

 

‘Collaboration Is Not a Natural Phenomenon’: Mapping a TE-AM Road to Successful Alliances, Part Two

 

If you would like to talk about how EquiPro International can help you identify the results you want to improve in your alliance organization’s development and alliance team skills contact Lynda McDermott at  lmcdermott@equiproint.com

Tags:  alliance team  Alliances  ASAP TE-AM Training Workshop  Collaboration  EquiPro International  lean and agile processes  Lynda McDermott  preferred alliance partner  strategic framework  team dynamics 

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‘Collaboration Is Not a Natural Phenomenon’: Mapping a TE-AM Road to Successful Alliances, Part Two

Posted By Genevieve Fraser, Thursday, September 14, 2017

“Study after study has shown that collaboration is not a natural phenomenon. It’s more normal to be competitive or to work within your team (tribe),” according to Lynda McDermott, (CA-AM), president of EquiPro International, Ltd., an international management consulting firm which specializes in leadership, team and business development for the Fortune 500, midsized companies, and professional services firms. McDermott made this assertion during her pre-conference workshop, “Next Gen Alliance Management: Moving your Organization to Ecosystem Performance Excellence,” one of the sessions on opening day of the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference, “Accelerating Life Science Collaboration: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes,” held September 13-15 in Cambridge, Mass. USA. (See Part One of ASAP Media’s two-part blog coverage of the workshop, a highly abbreviated version of the customized all-day ASAP TE-AM Training course McDermott offers to alliance professionals.)

 

The purpose of the all-day workshop McDermott teaches is to make alliances future proof. Based on exhaustive research, the ASAP TE-AM Training is designed to help put that structure in place so that teams that undergo the training can become a preferred alliance partner. The question is, how do we get from a non-collaborative group to one that effectively functions as a team and actively collaborates with partners?

 

McDermott took a head count of how many attendees considered themselves to be alliance professionals, regardless of their title. Most in the room raised their hand, except for one man who is involved in creating a start-up. She then asked, as alliance professionals, what skills or knowledge do they need? The responses ranged from the ability to communicate, having an awareness of resources, and seeing the overall picture, to understanding their roles and learning “what can be shared and what can’t, and when to share.”  

 

Even if people are not in an official role, they need to be on board with creating and sustaining an alliance, McDermott asserted. They need to know what the best practices are as well as which skills are needed.  But even after acquiring the needed skills, rarely might individuals be truthfully assessed as being part of a partnership, even an informal one. Partners need to do more than exchange business cards and talk on the phone periodically. For many, despite their training, nothing further happens because their training was geared toward individuals and a development of their unique skills. It is not targeted to acquiring group skills with a team that can then move on to build an effective alliance.

To address this oversight, ASAP applied mapping to figure out which techniques might work and which might not.  The result was an approach to creating better alliance teams—an approach intended to be customized to individual organizations.

 

The mapping involves the creation of three benchmark assessments with corresponding questions. The questions are grouped around a Framework assessment, Team Dynamics assessment and a Lean and Agile assessment. Based on responses to the questions, teams can assess what works and where they were most weak. Following the assessments, a road map can be based on areas that need the most development. This roadmap is a work plan that requires team action—which requires achieving a buy-in specific to that team.

“It’s important to get them on the same page,” McDermott explained. “The point is to teach people collaborate skills that involve skill-building exercises and debriefings. Sometimes, these assessments need to be refreshed every six months or so to keep the team on track,” she added.

 

“It’s also important to build a network that respects differences. There will always be cultural differences. The dynamic of adversarial conflict vs. building trust is always present. If a team isn’t having conflict, they will not be able to effectively organize,” she cautioned. (Be sure to read the Q3 2017 Strategic Alliance Magazine’s in-depth coverage of the topic of conflict management—which includes insights from McDermott and other experts on how to use creative conflict to advantage.) “Ask, how can we work together? The degree to which this can be accomplished improves the efficiency of an alliance, despite conflict. Truthfully, there will always be conflict, but you learn to manage it.”

 

Additional words of advice McDermott offered include:

  • Never believe that people naturally behave collaboratively.
  • Remember, you are not a therapist but a facilitator.
  • You must talk at deep level when something’s not right—for instance, there may be power issues, gender issues, etc.

Finally, McDermott noted, the TE-AM workshop is fast. It helps to focus on the strategic side of alliance management. It provides a process to uncover the gaps. “It allows the group to discover the group,” she said.

Tags:  alliance  alliance manager  Framework assessment  Lean and Agile  Lynda McDermott  partner  Strategic Alliance Magazine  Team Dynamics assessment  TE-AM Training  training 

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‘Collaboration Is Not a Natural Phenomenon’: Mapping a TE-AM Road to Successful Alliances, Part One

Posted By Genevieve Fraser, Thursday, September 14, 2017

Managing partnerships with complex multi-partner and ecosystem networks is hard enough, but venturing forth into new types of cross-industry partnerships is near-on impossible without the tools to get you there, according to Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, Ltd., an international management consulting firm which specializes in leadership, team and business development for the Fortune 500, midsized companies, and professional services firms.

“Study after study has shown that collaboration is not a natural phenomenon. It’s more normal to be competitive or to work within your team (tribe),” McDermott asserted during her pre-conference workshop, “Next Gen Alliance Management: Moving your Organization to Ecosystem Performance Excellence,” one of the sessions on opening day of the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference, “Accelerating Life Science Collaboration: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes,” held September 13-15 in Cambridge, Mass. USA.

The interactive workshop—incorporating a business exercise, assessment exercises, small group discussions and case studies—was a highly abbreviated version of the customized all-day course McDermott offers, ASAP TE-AM Training, to alliance professionals.

The pre-conference workshop featured an exercise involving colored blocks distributed to groups at each table. The task was to build a tower with the fewest blocks possible. The goal was to have the tower still standing at the end of the session. As blocks tumbled, comments were heard bouncing from table to table.  “Look, we need to make this stable,” one group said to the sound of collapsing blocks. “Don’t touch the table. Don’t breathe!” another group urged.

“Ok. It’s obvious, we need to create stabilizers,” one attendee said as he grabbed two sturdy water glasses. He placed the mouth side down on one and propped the other glass, right-side up, on top, which created a wide-mouthed platform for the blocks.

“Some materials are being used that are not approved,” McDermott interjected, glancing down at the hour-glass formation “stabilizer.”

Once the time was called and the experiment ended, McDermott asked attendees what they thought about their results. “We created a solid foundation which stabilized the blocks,” the architecturally oriented attendee said. Another pointed out that some might regard the use of water glass stabilizers as cheating. “We spent time planning [to determine] whether it was effective,” another team chimed in.

“So,” McDermott asked, “what was most effective? Each team had a set of 16 blocks, plus a set of assumptions. So, how many teams shared their insights or directives with another team?” There was a long pause as she looked around the room. “Oh, so, no one shared? But this workshop is on creating and sustaining alliances. Yet, you did not talk with the other team at your table?” she asked.

“I’ve conducted other workshops where teams did talk with one another, but it never occurred to them that they should collaborate. I’ve also worked with teams that claimed they had a highly collaborative culture, yet the result was the same. They did not collaborate.”

McDermott explained that the key principle at ASAP is collaboration. The certification ASAP offers, CA-AM certification, involves learning a common language as well as a set of processes and tools. But to build an alliance team, that alliance needs structure. Why? Because collaboration is not natural!” she stated emphatically.

Learn more about McDermott’s session and its purpose in Part Two of ASAP Media’s coverage of the ASAP TE-AM pre-conference workshop.

Tags:  ASAP TE-AM Training  collaboration  collaborative  Lynda McDermott 

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Free Pre-Summit Session Provides a Taste of New ASAP Team-Building Workshop

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, February 27, 2017

Workshops can be an valuable opportunity for personal growth. They also can boost collaboration and teamwork skills so that team members are on the same page in terms of strategy, skills, and even attitudes. ASAP has incorporated a one-day workshop into its tool box for just this reason, and attendees can taste a sample of the offering at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Partnering Enterprise,” Feb. 28-March 2 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, San Diego, Calif. USA. The free 45-minute pre-conference preview, “Next Gen Alliance Management: Moving your Organization to Ecosystem Performance Excellence” will be facilitated by Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, EquiPro International, on Tuesday afternoon. The workshop is designed to help participants focus on in-company team training and the CA-AM certification exam.

The session will provide attendees with insights into teambuilding and dynamics through experiential tools, such as business games and case studies. “It’s is not just for professionals,” says McDermott. “It’s useful for all alliance team members who may or may not be certified, and it is designed to expand the alliance team philosophy to all of the people in the corporation who serve on these teams.”

Alliance management gets even more complicated if, for example, you are a US-based pharma company with alliances around the world. “Alliances are a complex business model because you can’t force your culture on them,” she explains.

If they are going to be successful, you need a philosophy that spans all segments of the alliance. “It’s tricky because you want to have a common philosophy but have it flexible enough to adjust to different alliances and their goals,” she adds.

“One philosophy doesn’t fit all,” she continues. “But it’s important that each person that serves on alliance teams has in his or her head what the overall company alliance view is and what the operating principles are that govern every alliance the team works on.”

Which is why McDermott’s past workshops have included exercises such as building a duck out of legos to get people engaged “because people learn more by doing. What we’ve found is that people have different perspectives on what a duck looks like. When you are working in collaboration with alliance partners, not everyone has the same perspective,”  she adds.

While the session provides only a quick taste on the topic, EquiPro International customizes the full workshop to fit company needs. “We work with the company’s alliance management division to find out about the tools, best practices, and philosophy team members use. We have a  framework, but we customize it based on what the company wants to convey to all alliance team members.”

People do not learn and apply critical thinking by going over presentations, she emphasizes. That is why she includes an abbreviated assessment tool for the free session, but pre and post assessment tools for the eight-hour workshop. Participants can then compare their company team development with peers in the room. The assessment tools are designed to build awareness on critical success factors and provide an opportunity for personal reflection. By the end of workshop, participants can then see clearly where further development is needed. 

Tags:  alliance  collaboration  critical thinking  EquiPro International  framework  Lynda McDermott  team members  teambuilding  workshops 

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