To collaborate, or not to collaborate – that is the question. Of course, the answer will be different for every business owner. For some businesses, collaboration is not an option. For others, the idea of working with other business owners towards a common goal has just never come up. And then there are those who would be open to collaboration, but feel overwhelmed by questions such as: Can I trust another business owner to have the same standards as me? Or, where do I start? And ultimately, what if it all goes wrong – will it damage my own brand?
Personally, I quite like the idea of adding my skills and experience to a project with other inspiring people. And I have collaborated with several other business owners and solopreneurs, on many different projects over the years. Some projects have worked out very successfully, others less so. I suppose it is like everything else in business, there is always a risk that the project may crash and burn – BUT there is always a chance that it will fly – and it is this potential of a successful project that makes me want to get involved as often as I can.
And, like any other successful businessperson I try to learn from every experience. The lessons we learn from failures and successes make us better in our roles and gives us the advantage of a bit of hindsight (through past experience) when planning our next collaboration or solo project.
Looking back on business collaborations I have been part of, I can clearly see common issues, excellent project management skills on the part of the project leader/s as well as solutions to often-occurring hick-ups.
And so I thought I would share what I have learned, in a series of three articles. In (this) part one, I think it will be a good idea to cover points to consider BEFORE entering into collaboration. In parts 2 and 3, I’ll share ideas for the duration of the collaborative project, as well as immediately after project completion.
Thinking of business collaboration?
Each collaboration project will be different. However, there are a few points to consider before getting involved in any such project.
- What is the reason for wanting to start this project with others? We need to be clear on the “Why”. If this project will have no real benefit to you or others, it might be a GIBATS (Great idea but astronomical time suck). Be sure that the idea has real potential to add value and that it is not just another distraction.
- Who will the other partners be? Each project will require different skills, so it is a good idea to ensure each potential collaboration partner, brings their special skill set to the group AND that those skills are needed for the project. It is pointless including someone in the project, if they have no required expert skills. I have seen many cases where someone was included purely because another project partner “likes him/her and want to do some work together”. The entire purpose of collaboration is to bring together the skills and experience of more than one person, to achieve an outcome which none of the partners can do on their own. If someone does not bring a unique, needed set of skills and experience, that person should not be included in the project. Also, be sure that you actually like and trust all project partners.
- Who will be project lead? There is an old saying about “too many cooks in the kitchen…” that is very true when it comes to collaborative projects. Of course each partner is valuable and has a unique perspective to offer. However, successful projects need to have one person in the lead. Without this, there will be a breakdown in communication, accountability, motivation and progress – and ultimately, the potential failure of the project.
Project partners in place? Time to get the ducks in a row.
Once we know who will be part of the project and who will lead, it is enormously important to make sure everyone is on the same page. I have seen too many times, that a project fails because people had different perspectives on what is required of them, when tasks needs to be done and how things needs to be done. Communication is key, so arrange a “pre-project” meeting to discuss all aspects and gain agreement on all points. A few ideas:
- Agree on a timeline for the project. When should completion be? Set milestones and deadlines for each aspect of the project as well as each project partner.
- Which project management system will the group use? There are many platforms and software applications out there to help with managing the project. It is important that all project partners are comfortable with the chosen system and that the project lead is able to set up and manage the project properly. It can be immensely frustrating when partners want to change software during the project! Choose one system and stick to it.
- Gain agreement on how the project progress will be tracked. This is where good planning and setting of milestones comes in handy.
- List all responsibilities for each partner. Everyone needs to know exactly what is expected of them by when. Vague plans and pledges cause severe problems later on.
- Agree on preferred communication styles. Each of us has different preferences when it comes to communication. Some people prefer e-mail where others prefer Facebook messenger. It may be that the chosen project management system includes a communication method too, which is great. If not, discuss each partner’s preference and agree on one method.
- Distribute meeting summary / minutes to all partners. Having everything in writing will help avoid any miscommunication and confusion.
Finally, before project commencement.
It might be a good idea to have a second “pre-project” meeting. Project partners will have time between meetings to mull over everything and possibly come up with better suggestions or new ideas. It also gives everyone the time needed to consider his or her own commitment to the project. I would rather a project partner leave the project at this point, than halfway through the project! This second meeting also provides the opportunity to cover three final points of high importance:
- Getting a signed agreement in place. This is something which many people avoid at all costs, but which could cause a great deal of stress, arguments, frustration and possibly the failure of the project, if not done properly (or at all). This does not need to be a long, legal document drowning in jargon. All it needs to be is a write-up of the project, project time-lines, desired outcomes, partner responsibilities and how progress will be measured. All parties can then sign this agreement, which means everyone knows exactly where they stand.
- Build in an exit plan. Sometimes partnerships don’t work out. This is true in life, business and also in business collaboration. Agree at the outset (and add it into the written collaboration agreement) what the path of action will be if/when any of the partners wishes to leave the project before completion, or if/when a partner is not acting according to the agreement. This might be a difficult conversation to have, but it is always better to have it at the outset (when everyone is in a trusting, friendly mood) rather than once an argument starts.
- Agree how often the group will meet (in person or virtually) to discuss progress and schedule the first 2-3 meetings. This means everyone knows when they need to report back to the other partners and it helps setting meeting dates (as everyone can have their diaries out together, instead of having to play e-mail ping-pong).
In parts 2 and 3 of this series, I’ll cover the time during the collaborative project as well as project completion. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on how to create the perfect business collaboration.
Tiana Wilson-Buys is a Business Coach and Productivity Strategist. She offers a free 30-minute virtual meeting to help you get organised. Book your slot here.