I am sure you have experienced the situation where something happens that changes everything you thought you understood about a critical aspect of your life or work. The unexpected moment that, in a nano-second, flips some fundamental truth you took for granted. After which, there is no going back to what you’d believed before.
Like when the girl on the playground said something, and I instantly realized they had all just wanted a path to my older brother. Or the realization one evening that the client executives who took me for dinner because I was such a fabulous consultant were just planting their ideas into a soft target. No wonder they’d always liked my recommendations.
Picking an example less about me and my personal maturing moments, the most recent case was discovering all clients are identical.
I’d grown up in business being told by colleagues and clients alike that every client is unique. Each one a snowflake, no two alike. And I became as good as any of my colleagues at being able to point out the differences. “No, those two coffee processors are not identical. Their supply chains look the same, their bags of beans look the same sitting on the shelf, but one uses the wet process, the other, the dry process!” Or, “Yes, both retailers do make bread in their own factories, but the one in Denver is different from the one in Seattle because their recipes need to accommodate the lower air pressure a mile high up!”
So, when I realized that the thirty-one tropical disease experts from across the world, creating an early detection/early treatment strategy for African children, were identical to the fifty-two liquid sanitizer manufacturer leaders and managers in the US improving an innovation process. And that they both were identical to the sixteen client and customer leaders designing the transition stage of their $300 million/year, seven-year IT outsourcing contract. And who were all just the same as the four founders, who had just raised $5 million, clarifying their go-to-market actions . . . It was exciting and unsettling all in one moment.
That is only four; perhaps it’s a simple sampling error. What about the White House group and industry and civic leaders formulating a national sustainability policy? Were they the same? The financial services company board, executives, managers, and key staff refreshing their customer-centric vision? The pharmaceutical manufacturer redesigning drug discovery? The 1,000 churches deciding how to pool their scarce resources when there’s a community disaster? The leaders and staff of four organizations brought together in a quadruple merger deciding how to make their integration most successful? The chief innovation officers coming together from around the world to create the first global pediatric healthcare innovation strategy? The leaders of the business seeing their future crumble as their target market customers moved elsewhere?
Yes, each of these was the same, too. And the other 320 we looked at as well.
One after another, each was identical. Five people or five hundred people. From one company, or ten. Whether they were creating goals and plans to generate something new and more valuable over five years, or coming together to solve an urgent problem needing results in five days. In a small family-owned business in Philadelphia to a Fortune 10 global giant with conversations across 59 countries.
They were all doing the same thing. Triggered by a situation, a group came together to design and produce new outcomes related to that situation. Each group entered into conversations to take “We each think this. . .” to “We all agreed to do that. . .” to “We did it.”
Of course, each situation was also unique. Each had a different set of participants, different mixes of the board, executives, managers, and staff, brought together by different drivers, unique internal factors, requiring different results over different timeframes. The scope of who would execute and how that would occur was unique, too. But each, after some event triggered one executive to say to another, “I think we should discuss x,” led to a group of people taking qualitative and quantitative information into conversations and coming out with agreements, goals, and plans of action they and others went on to conduct.
In each case, after the “We all agree we are here, we all agree we want to go there, and we agree this is the best path to get there” was claimed, they assigned the actions to owners. A project manager was entrusted with coordinating the owners and having them communicate the status of their efforts. They monitored the actions to ensure they achieved the situation’s required outcomes.
The actions were unique, too. The re-engineering of clinical trials to use computer modeling and a virtual physiological human required action the retail organization who had redesigned their post-Covid way of working did not, and vice versa. But both required an interdependent network of individuals and teams to produce the required outcomes.
Within that network of two or more actors, at a more granular level, some actions required one person to do one thing for one hour in their one office, others required two people to edit a CAD-drawing real-time from their home offices, while another action had seven people typing comments into and changing cells on a shared Google sheet during a Zoom call.
In this article we have used examples of the three types of collaboration that make business groups identical:
A Strategic Collaboration is a group of executives, managers, and staff creating strategies, solving problems, revising policies, chartering programs, capturing opportunities, optimizing mergers, identifying improvements, forming and growing business relationships, and over 100 other organizational topics we’ve mapped. The starting point is a situation and a trigger. The group’s purpose is to identify the coordinated actions that need to take place. Minimum outputs are a set of agreements, goals, and actions to produce those goals.
A strategic collaboration’s outputs become operational collaboration’s inputs.
An Operational Collaboration is members of a workgroup sequencing and scheduling tasks, communicating status, sharing files, messaging about their actions. The starting point is the goals and plans passed in from the strategic collaboration. The purpose is to ensure the actions are coordinated and conducted. The output is the assignment of the actions to owners to produce the strategic collaboration’s target objectives.
A Tactical Collaboration is two or more individuals in one, between two, or across multiple organizations, connecting virtually to interact, talk, and/or share screens in place of in-person interaction, or to perform one of the tasks with an interdependency being coordinated by the operational collaboration. This tactical collaboration is where the work gets done.
Next time you bring a group together to discuss a business problem, create a strategy, or respond to a new need, or if you are a member of one of those groups, stand back from it and see it as one more example of a strategic collaboration. Don’t just see it for the topic at hand.
When you realize your group is entering into a strategic collaboration, you can ask some important questions:
Fast flow rarely occurs naturally in strategy development, executive decision-making, and problem-solving groups. Through our study of over 330 strategic collaborations, there is now a single set of principles, frames, methods, and tools for each unique | identical situation.