Achieving collaborative advantage: understanding the challenge and making it happen

Vangen, Siv and Huxham, Chris (2006). Achieving collaborative advantage: understanding the challenge and making it happen. Strategic Direction, 22(2) pp. 3–5.



The notion of collaborative advantage – that synergy can be achieved by integrating the resources and expertise of one organization with that of others – is not hard to subscribe to. The pooling of different organizations’ resources – for example the technical knowledge of one organization with the product design of a second and the access to market of a third – makes it possible for organizations to achieve something that none of them could achieve on their own. In principle therefore, collaboration provides organizations with the opportunity to continuously diversify and expand their portfolio and so achieve whatever vision they may have. When collaborations work well they can be very inspiring for those who manage them. As one manager put it to us:

As far as I’m concerned managing collaborations is the best job around – there is something new all the time and that’s what I like!

Yet getting the buzz and collaborating successfully is not a forgone conclusion. In essence, it means getting the advantage from partners’ expertise whilst at the same time managing inherently different aspirations and needs. This is far from straight forward and in reality most collaborations make painfully slow progress and others die without achieving anything. Even when successes are achieved it is usually on the back of a lot of pain and hard grind. One partnership manager commented:

We need to be prepared to work hard and go that extra mile – even with best partnerships we’ve got we are struggling and clunky.

It is not coincidental that most collaborations struggle to take off or fail to do so altogether. Managing to collaborate involves actively managing (in order) to collaborate. Understanding the complexity of collaboration and knowing how to ‘‘make things happen’’ is essential. This is explored fully in the book, Managing to Collaborate (Huxham and Vangen, 2005), which is based on 15 years of research involving hundreds of people with experiences in all kinds of collaborations.

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