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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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2017 Summer SAM Tackles the Art of Conflict Resolution; Synopses of Several ASAP activities; an Interview with the College of American Pathologist’s Hallie Brewer

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Q3 2017 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine highlights a stubborn partnering problem—conflict.  “The Art of Sparring and Crossing Swords” provides sage advice on how to best negotiate this sticky challenge and then asks readers: “Can conflict be beneficial to alliance managers?” With the increasing complexity of multi-industry partnering, the potential for conflict is on the rise—internally and externally. Each additional partner added into a complex multi-partner alliance adds additional opinions, customs, conventions, and personalities, the article points out. Practical advice and concrete studies are then provided for strategic, results-driven action. 

An accompanying article, “No Pressure, No Diamonds; No Sand, No Pearl,” provides data from Eli Lilly & Company’s 14-year-long “Voice of the Alliance Survey,” on the health of its alliances as well as the technical and commercial success of their products.  The survey concludes that the right kind of conflict leads to better alliances and products. Another companion article titled  “What Can History Teach Us About Building Great Alliances To Resolve Conflict?” draws from the Sept. 13-15, 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference session Alliance Management Learnings from Great Leaders,” which looks at alliances among the Allied forces used to defeat the Axis powers. Every once in awhile, a great alliance forms and serves as a historical guidepost, which can provide insights for alliances in general. 

What’s up at ASAP? Michael Leonetti, CEO and president, ponders about fresh and vintage ideas and considers the evolving partnering efforts of ASAP in “New Bottle—Old or New Wine,” which includes a progress report on the ISO-44001 international collaboration standard. There’s an interview with ASAP BioPharma Conference keynote speaker, Dr. David Williams, of Boston Children’s Hospital, explaining his breakthrough approach aligning academic and company researchers around rare diseases and therapeutic trials. This issue also includes a synopsis of the June ASAP Tech Conference, “Collaborate at the Speed of Digital Transformation,” and interviews with two managers at NVIDIA, the host sponsor of the conference. The article also provides a snapshot of insights from ASAP members and attendees.

Hallie Brewer, CA-AM, director of operations and strategic alliances at the College of American Pathologists, is center stage in this issue’s Member Spotlight “Partnering is Central to the College of American Pathologists—for Good Reason.” The article provides an overview of the recent partnering goals and accomplishments of the 70-year-old organization.  “Over the last several years, the CAP leadership has increased the emphasis on alliance management as an important strategic approach and competency for its teams,” explains Brewer.

Eli Lilly and Company’s editorial supplement provides some exercises for “Building Reputation,” and why it matters. The Close probes the question of whether we are capable of keeping pace with the coming changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It draws from a book review in this issue of Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. The tome by MIT’s Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, New York Times bestselling authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, raises big questions about the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where artificial intelligence or AI (the “machine”) is changing the way we provide services (the “platform”) to create some new economic frameworks. Customers (the “crowd”) are in charge, and the combination of the three is making partnering even more essential for businesses to succeed. The authors also provide fascinating reading on the context and history on how we arrived at this point. Not surprising if this books also makes it to the New York Times bestseller list.

All in all, the Q3 2017 Strategic Alliance Magazine should provide you with lots of ideas and fodder to help you, your partnerships, and your company prosper in a time of accelerating challenge and change. 

Tags:  and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies  Andrew McAfee  ASAP Tech Partner Forum  Boston Children’s  College of American Pathologist  Conflict Resolution  Dr. David Williams  Erik Brynjolfsson  Fourth Industrial Revolution  Hallie Brewer  New York Times  NVIDIA  Progress  The Second Machine Age: Work 

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Dynamic Summit Workshop Promises Practical Tips and Hands-On Exercises To Help Manage and Prevent Alliance Conflict

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, February 20, 2017

Candido Arreche, CA-AM, global director of portfolio & partner management, Xerox worldwide alliances, is known for his captivating, insightful, and fun hands-on workshops at ASAP events. Arreche will be returning to the role with a new six-hour workshop “How to Resolve Conflict in Your Alliance,” from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tues., Feb. 28 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. During a recent interview, Arreche shared his vision for the daily practice of conflict resolution that can keep an alliance relationship moving and growing.

Why a workshop on conflict resolution?

In every partnership, there is always conflict. You have a honeymoon period, but when you roll up sleeves and do the work, there is always conflict. A lot of alliances stagnate because of conflict or misunderstanding. How we work alliances, how we manage that conflict is how we will get that alliance relationship moving again. Conflict resolution is not only the stuff we have to do when we hit the conflict, but what do we do beforehand. Good conflict management works at how to manage negative conflict and how to prevent it.

Do you have any techniques for getting stagnant relationships moving again?

My workshop is mostly exercises to build trust and relationships to understand what the problem or conflict is to be able to work together. The focus is on how to build collaboration when there is an impasse in your alliance relationship. I teach theory, but that is only one-tenth of the workshop. Nine-tenths is everyday collaborative relationship building exercises. I teach them to change behavior patterns. People leave understanding the true problem and take a bag of useful, everyday tools. I also apply some of my Six Sigma exercises.

Can you give an example of one of these exercises?

One of the biggest challenges in problem solving is that people really don’t understand the root cause of the issue. Even management, when it has a problem, wants to solve the problem instead of trying to understand the problem. We are all moving so fast that we want to jump the gun and fix it. But fixing the problem doesn’t always fix the communication problem. I have one Six Sigma exercise called The Five Whys, in which you go through five whys to get to the true root cause before you start fixing it. You can only do that in a collaborative fashion. You need to work together to find common root causes.

Communication seems key to the process. What else is critical?

There are four important C’s in partnerships: communication, culture, continuity, and commitment. A lack of any one of those can contribute to conflict. We’ve talked about communication a bit; so let’s look at the cultural aspect. If you create better communication protocols, clearly understand the commitment of each organization around the alliance, and keep the continuity going, then when you run into the culture piece, you have the building blocks already in place. It’s like a linked chain, and you can’t tackle the cultural component without the others. In terms of continuity, it’s important to keep the alliance moving and fluid. If your alliance stops moving, you will have to overcome the friction again. If a member of the alliance is no longer involved, then it’s going to take an enormous amount of effort to bring someone up to speed. If there is a break in continuity, things stagnate or stop. It’s better to apply these tools daily than at the negotiation table. We want to roll up sleeves and do things that are more applicable to the day-to-day. Finally, people don’t understand how severe the conflict can be when you don’t have committed partners and organizations. One of the best skills of a good leader is good communication and seeking mutual commitment.

When do you know when a partnership is not worth saving?

Nobody likes a sunset in a relationship when you have vested interests. If there is a lack of commitment, delay after delay, and the amount of conflict is escalating, then it’s time to take a hard look at your situation. However, if your partner on the other side of the table is not equally committed, that may lead to bringing in an alternate. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all conflict is bad. It can be turned to your advantage. Conflict can become an ally. 

Tags:  alliance  ally  Candido Arreche  collaboration  communication  Conflict  conflict resolution  continuity  culture  partner  partnership  partnerships  Xerox 

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