The Together Advantage: Why companies and entrepreneurs need to collaborate today more than ever

With the right mix of trust, camaraderie, and transparency, collaboration can be implemented without much hassle and can help MSMEs and startups scale new heights during difficult times like the pandemic.
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The history of success in business is also the history of collaboration. From the Wright brothers to Ben Cohen and Jerry and the Google founders, entrepreneurs came together to share skills and expertise and built great products and services.

Collaborations usually function in two levels -- individual and enterprise. At the individual level, entrepreneurs join forces to chase their goals, while at an entrepreneurial level, companies embrace each other to share core competencies and pave the way for better services and products.

The solo trend

But not many were in favour of the C word in business. Many businessmen, including famous ones such as Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford, wanted to go solo or, if they were in need for some extra skill or competency, they went ahead and built those in-house, making their enterprise branch out into unchartered territories.

In many cases, such moves didn’t deliver the desired results. But for some, that strategy worked. Obviously, we don’t get to hear about those that failed.

But things have changed, as Bob Dylan has put it. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has forced business communities to sit back and introspect, in a historically unprecedented way.

Surely, one of the most important learnings from the pandemic is that this is the time one should stick to the core competency and go frugal on spends in order to weather the economic storm brought in by the coronavirus and find sustainable growth.

Indeed, the post-pandemic world, which I’d like to call the Covid-continuous world, considering that the impact of the coronavirus are going to be lingering on for at least a decade from now, will be one where most entrepreneurs will desist from placing big bets.

The risk appetite will be much limited, by default and by design. Companies will be cutting corners to make up for the losses and will be introducing a number of measures to enhance productivity and workforce optimisation.

This scenario might not pose a gargantuan challenge to giant companies. But for medium and small sized enterprises and startups, the Covid-world is going to be a challenging one as they will be staring at cost and staff optimisation puzzles and scrambling for functional business solutions.

By default, most will trim portfolios and abandon expansion plans. That’s the Pavlovian approach during a crisis. But for ambitious companies and enterprises that brings a lot of pain, given that they know the impact of the pandemic can last longer than many expect.

Enter collaboration

In 1994, an insightful article titled ‘Collaborative Advantage: The Art of Alliances’ by Harvard thinker Rosabeth Moss Kanter, discussed how “in the global economy, a well-developed ability to create and sustain fruitful collaborations gives companies a significant competitive leg up.”

In fact, this is much more important in today’s world than ever, thanks to the changes introduced by the pandemic. Companies and enterprises must understand that this is the beginning of a ‘Together Moment’ in the history of business. Yes, there were such trends but never in the history of mankind that collaboration has been felt so necessary than it has been now.

So, how does one do that? What are the rules of the game now? Has anything changed from the yesteryears?

Why collaborate?

Before we answer that, let’s look at the immediate and long-term benefits of collaboration in today’s environment. Mainly, the fruits of collaboration can come in five baskets.

First, collaboration helps save time, energy, and cost. Next, it helps you enhance your core skills without compromising on quality. Third, collaboration introduces to you some quality external exposure that can bring a culture of plurality to your business environment.

The fourth benefit is that collaboration helps you find your future business partners. The fifth and final advantage is that it ensures your innovation engine keeps whirring, given that you don’t lose out on precious resources for R&D.

Who to collaborate with?

Granted, not many sectors can start looking for collaborations immediately. But a clutch of them can. For instance, in areas such as technology, education, healthcare, banking, logistics, etc., companies and entrepreneurs can immediately start looking for creative collaboration.

Take education, a sector where collaboration can be a great win-win. If you’re a firm delivering educational services, it makes immense sense to rely on an instructional video content producer for your services, tie up with a web services provider to broadcast your online services; partner with a digital logistics agency to disseminate your services on social media, etc, rather than investing in-house to build these efficiencies.

To give another example, if you are a hospital chain with a plan for expansion, maybe into other cities or into other segments such as tertiary care or laboratories or telemedicine, this is the moment where you look for firms that can help you get those jobs done while you are able to keep honing your core skill of, say, affordable primary healthcare.

If you’re going to build an in-house telemedicine platform to deliver your services, it’s indeed going to cost you a bomb and can run riot on your balance sheets and cash reserves if any. So, it makes sense to tie up with a nimble player who you can integrate into your ecosystem going forward.

But this is not so easy to implement. Entrepreneurs and company leadership must be ready for a transparent, no-holds-barred dialogue with their stakeholders as well the potential partners to come up with transparent and futuristic collaboration plans.

For obvious reasons, convincing your existing internal partners and team members to give their nod for external partnerships will be hard. That would require some constructive pushing and deep introspection, which, given the way the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our abilities to think through and make impactful decisions, is going to be challenging.

That said, the benefits of collaboration in non-core areas can be long-lasting and beneficial for all partners. With the right mix of trust, camaraderie, and transparency, it can be implemented without much hassle and can help Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) and startups scale new heights during these difficult times.

In countries such as India, where the MSME sector contributes to a lion’s share of the jobs, their survival in a post-pandemic world becomes crucial for the overall economy. On the cue, collaboration becomes the most important mantra for the companies to survive and thrive.

Edited by Megha Reddy

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)