Collaboration is key to business and social success

From: Adaptation Ltd
Published: Tue Jan 30 2007

Forging mutually beneficial relationships is the key to business and social success according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of ‘Winning Companies; Winning People’. Speaking at the 17th World Congress on Total Quality in Kolkata, India he called for greater engagement with stakeholders in order to reconcile individual and collective interests and achieve both commercial success and personal fulfilment.

The Professor’s research has identified critical success factors and what high performers or ‘winners’ do differently in areas such as winning business and building relationships. According to Coulson-Thomas, "Losers are essentially selfish, reluctant to share and would prefer to operate alone. They keep to themselves in an attempt to avoid commitments and becoming entangled in relationships with others."

The findings - summarised in Coulson-Thomas’ new book ‘Winning Companies: Winning People, the differing approaches of winners and losers’ (Kingsham Press, 2007) suggest that being half hearted can lead to failed relationships. Too often the Professor finds: "Losers seek to co-operate on their terms, and they often put the bare minimum of effort into maintaining relationships. They hold back emotionally and intellectually and endeavour not to become too deeply involved."

Winners are more willing to work with colleagues and are more likely to co-operate with compatible and complementary interests. According to Coulson-Thomas, "Winners see and seek the advantages of collaboration. Engaging with others enables them to learn and develop, offer a wider range of services to their customers, and pursue a broader range of opportunities."

The research suggests winners are usually more receptive to approaches from others. The Professor finds: "Many high performers are open to new ideas, and welcome suggestions for improvements and innovation. They actively search for potential business partners and explore possibilities for joint initiatives or collective action."

Coulson-Thomas stresses that "Winners do not mind the confrontation and argument that often precedes mutual respect and a meeting of minds. They endeavour to find common ground, resolve conflicts and promote shared interests and goals."

Increasingly, organisations work together in supply chains rather than operate alone to deliver value to customers. Coulson-Thomas explains: "Consortium bids for complex projects are common in certain sectors. By working together respondents assemble the capabilities required. Each concentrates upon what it does best. A company that tries to do everything itself may become a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’"

The investigation at the University of Lincoln finds winners work hard at reaping the benefits of co-operation. The Professor reveals: "They establish and regularly review collaborative processes and practices. They put practical arrangements in place to clarify ownership of customers, prevent poaching and protect intellectual property."

Winners are realists. Coulson-Thomas explains: "They recognise that to grow and deepen relationships should be acceptable and mutually beneficial to all the parties involved. When negotiating, they instinctively look for ‘win-win’ outcomes."

Winners also commit. Coulson-Thomas suggests: "They become involved. They encourage open and frank discussion. They are flexible and prepared to do things differently to accommodate particular and legitimate interests. They are also not ‘fair weather friends’. They can be relied upon in crisis situations."

Absence of tensions may indicate a lack of ambition. The Professor warns: "Quiet organizations may be asleep. Pushing the boundaries of what is possible may provoke confrontation between those favouring the status quo and those who desire to move on. Winners strive for mutual understanding and endeavour to reconcile differences."

Lively discussion, informed debate, a willingness to challenge, even confrontation is sometimes desirable. According to Coulson-Thomas, "It can prevent complacency, spur innovation and lead to higher performance. Disputes are usually better in the open - where efforts can be made to resolve them - than hidden when they can fester."

The research suggests people should distinguish between disruptive opposition and constructive questioning and encourage the latter. According to Coulson-Thomas, "Companies should encourage customers and business partners to raise concerns, express viewpoints, explore issues, reconcile opinions and share learning."

Companies sometimes look for collaborators with similar characteristics to themselves. As a consequence, they may find in crisis situations that the whole is not necessarily greater than the sum of the parts. The Professor cautions: "Like drunks endeavouring to prop each other up, they compound each other’s weaknesses."

Lasting relationships often involve dissimilar but complementary partners, with roles and responsibilities allocated according to comparative advantage. Coulson-Thomas explains: "If the parties endeavouring to co-operate are very different they may not have enough in common to cement a relationship. On the other hand, if they are so alike as to add little to each other’s capabilities collaboration may not be justified."

‘Winning Companies; Winning People, the differing approaches of winners and losers’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas is published by Kingsham Press (ISBN 1-904235-58-1; Price £19.95 plus postage and packing) can be ordered on-line from

Companies can now assess their own approaches to building relationships with customers. The research team can generate bespoke benchmarking reports for companies that would like to compare their practices with their peers and high performing winners. Details of these and other services can be obtained from

Details of reports presenting critical success factors and winning ways identified by the Winning Companies; Winning People research programme and related bespoke benchmarking reports and workshops can be obtained from Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas from

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas has advised over 100 boards on improving board and/or corporate performance, reviewed the business development processes and practices of over 100 companies and spoken at over 200 national, international and corporate conferences in some 35 countries. He is the author of over 30 books and reports and can be contacted by Tel: + 44 (0) 1733 361 149; or email: and via
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