Collaboration: (Un) Even Steven

Five Secrets To Surviving Lopsided Collaborations

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“It’s just not fair!” How many times have your kids said that to you? Or, how many times have you heard that from a colleague describing collaborative supply chain relationships? Indeed, if supply chain collaborations had an official logo, the “greater than” or “less than” signs might be fitting candidates, because even the most fair and balanced of these highly valued business arrangements are prone to occasional inequity.
Although this disparity can be disconcerting, it doesn’t have to be lethal, especially if your company is willing to engage in one or more of the five following healthy practices. Done right, they’ll help you and your organization survive a lopsided collaborative relationship. 

Acknowledge and accept extenuating circumstances:  Anyone who’s ever “done” collaboration well will readily admit that it’s almost impossible to strike a 50-50 balance 100 percent of the time.  For one thing, one partner may realize more gains from the arrangement simply because the timing was better or because it started out with more cost or performance issues than the other.  For another, there’s always the chance that one participant is entitled to greater rewards because it has taken on more of the work, risk, or responsibility.

Consider the possibility of ebbs and flows. Much like siblings who grow at different times and rates, it’s important to remember that not all participating companies will simultaneously realize the same benefits – if ever.  Sometimes one participant’s gains may accrue almost immediately and then level off, while another’s may grow more slowly and steadily.  So before you assume that the collaborative benefits you hoped for may have completely passed your company by, consider the possibility that your best results may still lie ahead.

Take the long view:  Some collaborative benefits may not be evident on a balance sheet or scorecard.  For example, co-loading with a bigger company may open the door to increased trucking capacity, more positive carrier relationships, or more favored shipper status. In the long run, some of these advantages might turn out to be even more valuable than those you were originally aiming for. 

Anticipate and correct obvious inequities up front.  You can see some misalignments coming at you from a mile away. This is often the case when one partner agrees to supply an essential component such as the systems platform, equipment, or facility that all players will enjoy.  Before you and everyone else sign on the dotted line, take the time to thoroughly examine what these differences are really going to mean over the life of your relationship, including placing a value on them in terms of partnership percentages or dollars and cents.  And build in some clear contractual language aimed at helping to even things out.  It will help head off misunderstandings or complaints later down the line. 

Measure against yourself, not your partner.  It’s quite natural to feel chagrined or envious if your partner is achieving the kinds of benefits that cover stories are made of while your collaboration results are comparatively more humble.  Just make sure those feelings don’t distract you from the real task at hand, which is changing your own supply chain for the better. 

Before you pull the plug on any collaboration simply because your results aren’t as good as someone else’s, ask yourself two questions:  Are the benefits we’ve achieved positive enough to merit the investment of time and energy we’re making?  And would we have been able to achieve them if we hadn’t participated in this collaboration?  If the answer to both is yes, that’s a good indication it’s a relationship worth saving.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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