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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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