In the information age we now inhabit, collaborative working is more relevant than ever.
Ranging from informal networking or resource sharing to more complex and strategic knowledge sharing partnerships, organisations are starting to take a more open approach - moving away from previously more closed business models and challenging the traditional ‘top down’ leadership style.
As businesses look for innovative solutions to increase productivity and encourage growth, so they are becoming more open about sharing information and ideas, inviting input from the outside and empowering employees for the good of the business. Working together enables businesses to extend their network of contacts and expertise and encourages the free flow of information, resources and knowledge.
I first began to appreciate the concept a number of years ago when I read a book called ‘Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything’. Written by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, it explores how some companies in the early 21st century have used mass collaboration and open source technology, such as wikis, to be successful.
Premier Farnell’s highly innovative online engineering community, element14, is one such example of professionals from different organisations working together to try to solve universal problems – launched in 2009, it now has 330,000 members in in 231 countries. Another interesting use of collaboration is SETI@home – an internet-based public volunteer computing project that harnesses PCs in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence!
Collaboration is an art – taking a creative approach to problem solving, involving everyone in the process and developing solutions from the best ideas. Ultimately, it helps businesses remain at the forefront of their industry – providing better services for customers, enhancing communication and encouraging innovation.
The Leeds business community is using collaborative working in the Leeds Business Improvement District (BID). Made up from businesses and organisations across the private, public and third sectors – a sort of ‘crowd sourcing’ – the company has been established to address issues, enhance the business environment and help drive the area forward. Although still in its early stages, it has identified certain important areas on which it intends to focus including developing an all-round programme of events and activities; identifying investment needs in the city centre and opportunities to leverage new sources of funding and areas where the city could be better maintained and improved to welcome visitors. Often key City-wide interventions can’t be achieved by any one organisation, however collectively great things can be achieve through aggregating resources and shared vision. The BID concept has proved successful in Newcastle where it has already delivered tangible results including securing support through the Heritage Lottery Fund for the redevelopment of the historic Bigg Market, winning the UK Coastal Marina of the Year 2015 Award and launching the inaugural Newcastle Motor Show.
Collaborative working can take many different forms. From very informal partnerships, such as resource sharing or networking groups, to cooperative arrangements or more structured and formalised joint ventures and mergers, businesses can mutually benefit from working together. The Institute for Collaborative Working plays an important role in helping organisations large and small, in both the public and private sectors, to build and develop effective, competitive business relationships based upon a collaborative approach. The Institute has worked with the British Standards Institution to develop a national standard, BS 11000 , and certification scheme – the world’s first standard in relationship management.
How collaboration is approached should be influenced by the nature and scale of the businesses involved and consideration should be given to how the collaboration will work – the resources and risks involved, how it will be managed, how profits will be taken and shared, as well as how disputes will be handled. From a legal perspective, it is important to consider not only the structure of the collaboration but also whether it raises any competition law issues, should the businesses have significant market share. It is for this reason that Clarion’s commercial team works closely with clients, playing a strong, strategic role in negotiating and documenting new and changing business relationships – building the right framework from which the partnership can thrive.
We work with over 100 other law firms across various departments within the business, ranging from costs and litigation funding to referrals where conflicts arise or where particular expertise is required. Like many of our clients, Clarion believes collaboration brings benefits both to the firm and to clients. By its very nature, collaborative working requires a commitment to building long term relationships and taking a holistic approach, something which we firmly believe in – becoming a trusted adviser to our clients rather than providing purely legal services.
Yorkshire based translation and interpreting solution provider, The Big Word, is a company which has been founded on such collaborative working. It operates across the globe through a network of partners, not only linguists but various support service providers including technology and data companies and system analysts, to provide advanced solutions to transform clients’ global communications. Similarly, Kcom, the communications solutions provider with offices in Wakefield and Hull, places great importance on its strategic partnerships with many other organisations, including Phoenix IT Services and BT. It believes this collaborative working enables it to deliver the best possible services to its customers whilst benefiting all of the businesses involved, allowing each to focus on its strengths.
Communisis in Leeds is another good example – it works together with numerous strategic partners to provide a seamless service to deliver customer communications. Communisis benefits in being able to offer its clients a much more diverse range of services, a ‘one stop shop’ for communications, while partner organisations benefit from the scale of the Communisis business. It’s clear that Yorkshire businesses are certainly embracing collaboration.
It’s not just businesses that can benefit. Social and environmental issues, such as healthcare and climate change, can be tackled with a team approach. NGOs, government and businesses are increasingly working together to achieve progress. Collaborative working is most definitely showing a way forward and presenting more opportunities, both for businesses and individuals.
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