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4 Features of Successful Collaborations


Note: This is a slightly refreshed version of an article that I first published on LinkedIn back in March 2016 - so apologies if you're one of the 126 people who have already read it! Incidentally, the original version made some tongue-in-cheek comments about the-then direction of the US Presidential race - oh, how innocent we all were back then...

what to look for when you’re looking to collaborate

You already know what collaboration is.

We all know how to collaborate, because society, love, work – even life itself – demands that we work with others to achieve shared goals. We might not pause in the moment to reflect on the fact or method of our collaboration, just as we don’t consciously make complex calculations based on mass, velocity and trajectory when throwing a ball, but the collaboration, and the ball’s arc, are still real.

I say all this because, for all that “collaboration” has become something of a buzzword across almost every sector and industry out there, there is still an unfortunate tendency for people to treat collaboration in an organisational or commercial context as something different, something diffuse, something… difficult. It’s not.

Collaboration, whether in a personal or a business context:

  • Requires people to make it work

  • Involves those people working together to achieve a mutual goal

  • Entails at least some degree of longevity

  • Is infinitely variable in subject matter, participants and method of realisation

Taking each of those features in turn:


Clearly our personal, everyday collaborations involve people – but it can be easy to forget that, whatever one organisation might agree to do together with another, ultimately it’s those organisations’ people – with all their human virtues and foibles – who have to make it live and breathe.

Successful collaborations realise this and spend time on consciously developing the human relationships alongside the business ones.

In future articles I will explore some of the challenges and opportunities this brings to business collaboration.

mutual goals

It’s really important not to confuse goals with purposes – in a successful collaboration it’s perfectly possible to want the same thing, but for different reasons, so long as those reasons are compatible enough that they won’t drive conflicting or undermining behaviours.

The guy who fixes my car does it because he likes the money (and probably enjoys the challenge my decrepit ride offers him); I get my car fixed because I'm too fat and unfit to run to all my meetings. The shared goal is that my car works, and our differing reasons for wanting that are largely immaterial.

Successful collaborations expressly identify where the collaborators' goals do and don't overlap (and don't get too hung up on having different motivations for those goals).

(For those of you thinking that a seemingly straightforward commercial transaction like this is not much of a collaboration, I’ll be addressing that in a future article.)


How long should a collaboration last? As long as it needs to.

The point here is that there is, in any true collaboration, a period of working together to make something happen. Whilst a collaboration may culminate in a final moment of delivery, the coming-together of the people involved lasts for more than just a fixed-moment-in-time, shake-hands-and-it’s-done transaction.

This is especially true when we start seeing bigger collaborations as a series of mini-collaborations (more on that at a future date).

Successful collaborators recognise that treating collaboration like a one-off transaction leads to the wrong mindset and underinvestment of effort.


It’s probably the sheer variability of what a collaboration can be or do which has defied attempts to comprehensively define what “collaboration” really is.

This feature is also probably one of the main reasons for people being daunted by the idea of embarking on collaborations in a business context – in a world governed by options papers, risk management protocols and the spectre of insurers and litigators, infinite variability becomes a scary thing.

One common reaction to this is to put strict and artifical boundaries around the field of the proposed collaboration, so that everything stays in a safe and familiar place. This in turn tends to stifle imagination and innovation, and seriously undermines some of the main benefits of collaborating in the first place.

Successful collaborators embrace the sheer variety of what collaborations can be and do, but don't let that lead to undisciplined chasing of lots of different pots of gold (with the end of the rainbows never quite being in reach).

The solution lies in applying some structured thinking and approaches, to help turn endless possibilities into limitless opportunities – then, suddenly, “Where do I start?” becomes “When do I start?” Again, I will explore that more fully in future articles on collaboration.

So, you already know what collaboration is. What may be less clear to you is how to do it well, especially in the business or organisational context. In future weeks, I plan to offer up my thoughts on this, gained from hard-won experience of seeing business collaboration done both brilliantly and badly.

In the next instalment on collaboration I’ll start laying the groundwork by encouraging you to think in a structured way about the answer to “Why collaborate?” – featuring 7 Cs, at least 2 questionable analogies, and 1 unifying truth.

© 2016 Al Goodwin

Additional material © 2018 Candid Commercial Limited

If you're too impatient to wait for future articles on our special 5-step model for successful collaborations, feel free to drop us a line to learn more.

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