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How to expand your collaboration network

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Collaboration is a great thing, but mostly when we talk about collaboration, we talk about doing so amongst employees, ie internal collaboration.  There are considerable advantages however to collaborate with external parties, and I wrote a few posts last week looking at the various ways you can work on your collaboration relationships.  Central to many of these posts was the concept of your collaboration network, which began to explore not only how you work with your partners, but how your partners work with each other.

In this context, there are two main types of relationship.  An open relationship is typically one that exists purely between you and your collaborator.  A closed relationship by contrast is where your partners also collaborate with each other.  There are various benefits to each type of relationship, but in this post I want to focus on how you can attract more of the open type of collaboration relationship.

Look for substitutes

Substitutes in this context are the companies that make things that offer customers an alternative to what you’re offering.  Tea and coffee for instance are often used as examples of such products, but when it comes to collaboration, you need to think a bit more creatively than that.  Look at the companies that make substitute products and see if there are any strategic and cultural fits with your own.  Once that has been identified you can explore whether a new business model could allow you to collaborate effectively with them.

Look for complementary partners

The opposite to a substitute partner is one that complements your offering.  What products or services exist in the market that make your own more valuable?  Figure out which of these companies aren’t already working with one of your existing partners, and if they have a strong fit with you in terms of culture, strategy, resources etc. then they could be a good company to collaborate with.

Look for rivals of your partners

When you’ve developed a good understanding of the collaboration ecosystem you exist within you’ll hopefully gain a good understanding of who your partners compete with.  As part of this process you can begin to explore whether any of these companies might be cooperative with you and whether collaborating with them might give you greater leverage over your existing partner.

Look for new entrants

New entrants to any marketplace can bring an exciting number of possibilities, yet due to their relative lack of status, they can often struggle to build collaboration partnerships with larger players.  This can be a good opportunity to attract key technological breakthroughs or talent to your organization.  Keep an eye on the market for new entrants and maintain a good understanding of the capabilities of each.  If they are a good fit with your own organization then they could make strong collaboration partners.

Look for direct competitors

The final possible way of securing new open partnerships seems a counter intuitive one.  The standard heuristic is that you’re competing against rival companies, therefore working with them is not something you should aspire to do.  That isn’t to say some might not make good collaboration partners however.  Think through whether any of your rivals have a good cultural fit with your own, and whether either of you could benefit from pooling resources or knowledge.

These are just some of the ways you can think creatively about the open partnerships you have and how you can look to secure more of them.  Let me know in the comments if you can think of any more.

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