Overcoming the challenges of multi-organisation working
Austrian Franz Klammer was arguably the best downhill skier the world has ever seen. He dominated the event for four seasons between 1975 and 1978, winning the Hahnenkamm (regarded as the most demanding course on the World Cup circuit) four times. He won 25 World Cup downhill races, including 12 in a row. He took the Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics at Innsbruck in 1976. And all this in a sport where competitors’ times are separated by just fractions of a second, and a momentary misjudgement costs the race.
Here’s that Gold medal winning run :
He wasn’t an elegant skier. In fact, he often seemed to be unbalanced. But he had a talent for carrying speed with him all the way down the mountain, holding onto his momentum. And he was utterly, utterly committed to each race. He wasn’t the best technician (although he was clearly very, very good); others were better at gliding or jumping or turns. Where he excelled was being the best integrator of all the different techniques and capabilities of skiing, using the right technique at the right time, and switching smoothly from one to another. Watching him ski is a picture of intensity and focus.
So what can a 1970s skier teach us about managing multi-partner organisations? Thirty years ago, when Porter wrote about value chains, he was describing organisations in which, broadly, each organisation owned and managed everything it needed to compete. Today, the situation is radically different. Today’s business environment has shifted from a highly competitive one to one in which there are significant areas of collaboration and cooperation. From the financial crash of 2008/9 to the ‘global village’, organisations have become interconnected as never before. What has been happening? Rather than simply managing assets and capabilities they own, most organisations now also require the ability to identify, access, integrate and manage assets and capabilities which the organisation does not own, but need to access in a rapid and cost effective manner. These organisations have moved from being a closed unit to being more porous. Advantage is created by building novel configurations of linked organisations, business model innovation is as important as product or service innovation. Business model innovation is hard to copy – and so confers a sustainable advantage – because it is hard for your competitors to discern, in comparison to new products, channels, or markets, for example. So working across organisations, to develop and deploy synergistic blends of capabilities, has the potential to create new value propositions and new ways to create strategic fit with your chosen market. This trend for multi-organisation collaboration is now so powerful that collaboration is key for success in many organisations.
You don’t have to be the best at all the component capabilities which make up your business model. But you do have to be really effective at the act of bringing together all those capabilities, each at the right capacity and to the right quality, and integrating them to deliver a differentiated value proposition. So a large part of your organisation’s strategy is being delivered by people who don’t (directly) work for your organisation, nor work at any of its locations, not share its culture and values, and who are directly overseen by managers in other organisations. In the collaborate-to-compete world of multi-organisation working, your ability to integrate elements of different organisations effectively, to ‘plug and play’ new capabilities and decouple from capabilities you no longer require is critical for success. Those who are skilful – and agile – integrators can develop tight strategic fit in their chosen marketplace, and gain the rewards of doing so.