Moore or Less: Collaboration v. Cooperation...Does it Matter?

MOORE-or-Less-Graphic.jpgA key theme addressed at the recent Moore Stephens North America Fall Conference was collaboration. Given that this is a key priority of both the MSIL and MSNA strategies, this came as no surprise. Members want to achieve goals together within our broader community. This pursuit leads to value and competitive advantage, as evident by increased engagement with both clients and talent, but it’s no easy feat.

First, it is clear that “collaboration” has varied meanings, responses and levels of activity associated with it. A simple check into the online Oxford Dictionary defines “collaboration” as “… the action of working with someone to produce or create something …” Meaning a true collaboration requires an active engagement with others.

So when a member firm submits a referral to another firm due to a gap in geography, resources or capabilities, would we say that is an act of collaboration?

At the risk of turning this into a theoretical debate, it could be argued that this is a prime example of coordination or cooperation, instead of collaboration, given that nothing was truly created. Working from that definition, effective collaboration may require a shift in mindset. To achieve the results, competitive advantage and value made available through real collaboration, additional effort is required.

MOL-Dec-Graphic.JPGFor collaboration to be successful, we’d argue there are three key elements:

Successful and sustainable collaboration demands the development of deep relationships that include three elements:
  • Trust: Collaborative trust is a commitment to work to the best of your ability and deliver a high-quality product or service while always doing the right thing by the other party
  • Reciprocity: Reciprocity is the give and take necessary to think beyond our own self-interest, shifting the mindset from transactional to relational
  • Mutuality: Both parties have to want to achieve a common goal that they may not be able to achieve otherwise, or as effectively or efficiently without the engagement of another party
Each element of the relationship involves recognition, even if only privately, that we are better off working together in a community than completely alone. This dynamic shifts the idea of a win-win from being a desirable solution, to being a mandate for success.

Effective collaboration does not require a formal structure. The efforts surrounding collaboration can be accelerated by the identification and agreement of key elements, but heavy rules are not necessary. Inclusion of some “soft governance” aspects will align parties and enable the benefits of collaboration to be pursued more quickly.

Fundamentally, governance provides organization and guides the parties to agreed upon behavioral norms and expectations. It involves having consensus around three key areas, though these are not intended to be all-inclusive:
  1. Decision Making – How will decisions be made during the initiative or endeavor?
  2. Problem Solving – How will problems be identified, raised, and addressed by the group?
  3. Conflict Resolution – How will conflict be addressed and resolved?
When the parties understand the above areas, even if they are not formalized, collaboration will be more effective with results more attainable.

Like a championship sports team, positive results through collaboration are made more likely when the parties have clarity around what individuals need to do and how they can get it done together. This includes establishment of roles and responsibilities as well as a fair sharing of rewards that may come from the effort. In addition, teams need to appropriately leverage technology and have the right tools in place to simplify the work process.

Similar to the Governance element, the Systems component is not about making a huge investment and spending hours talking about the possibility of getting things done. However, without some advance thought, expectations can be misaligned which may lead to a perception of failure, even when successful.

Within the Moore Stephens community, collaboration is an important, strategic element. Together, we can achieve competitive advantage locally, regionally, and globally. Success will be more easily obtained if we commit to a common understanding and definition to align our relationships, governance, and systems. It is up to us to make the difference and propel us forward, together.