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Here are the tactics to get global collaboration and partnerships back on course.

Many global managers depend on “dotted line” reporting and relationships to get things done. Good partnerships are flexible and efficient, but the daily challenge for global managers is they lack the authority, i.e. the formal power, to push work forwards.

Often, international partnering starts out with good intentions on all sides. It’s local priorities and personalities that gradually weaken the commitment to your partnership.

We all recognise that sinking feeling. Partnerships go from being fired up to frustrated, from inspired to irritated. Slowly the relationship slips from “want to” to “have to”. Your leadership style slips from commitment to compliance. Not only does this require far more effort and time on your side; your streetwise partners become brilliant at avoiding you, your requests, your deadlines and your demands. When that happens, you might want to use one or more of these seven ways to get the international partnership back on course.

Tactic #1: Be realistic
Assess what is true, the facts, the data. We’d all love to turn back the clock to that first meeting or the first conference call. That was the one filled with good intentions, bold promises, topped off with a sprinkling of humour and high energy. Those initial calls when people would join conference calls early (or at least on time); share small talk and funny comments; they would have the right documents to hand before the meeting started; and the days when “joint-problem solving” meant exactly that and not “let’s sit back and listen to the boss’ idea”.

Relationships develop. Your partners, over time, will do things that annoy and irritate you. The trick is to grow with the relationship by developing a deeper, fuller sense of who the other people are. This is way to achieve more, faster. It starts with sticking to the reality now, not clinging onto some wished-for fantasy of successful collaboration.

Tactic #2: Understand first, evaluate second
Get away from speculation and gossip. If the partnership is getting weaker, stop the could-have, should-have or would-have discussions. It’s business, not a TV chat-show. Dealing in scandal, gossip and rumours, or going round and round the same point help nobody. It’s time to move on.

Once all partners strip out the speculation and assumptions – or at least label it for what it really is: a total guess – you are left with a solid foundation on which to rebuild a new relationship.

To do this you need two skills. First, question your assumptions about the current state of the collaboration. Second, focus on the other person. Don’t just listen to collect information which you use two minutes later to attack them. Listen to understand, not to find more ammunition for your judgement gun.

Tactic #3: Prioritise the partnership
Make it a priority, not the priority. Like any relationship, if a collaboration is going to work well, you have to work on it. A good place to start is to figure out what the strengths and positive points about the collaboration are; what it is that gives people hope that this partnership can be a profitable one.

Tactic #4: Open up
At the heart of all great collaborations is trust. Trust is like a stool. There are four legs: being open, being honest, being respectful and doing all of these consistently.

Take one of those legs away it’s not so comfortable to sit on the stool. Take two or three legs away and it becomes very difficult to balance on the stool.

Trust needs all for elements. Try opening up to your collaboration partner on a non-controversial issue, e.g. sharing a fresh insight about a customer or a new product idea.

Tactic #5: Be clear on the outcome
We have to know what the partnership exists for. What is the end-goal? Why are we doing this together and not on our own?

It helps to be “fixed on the outcome, flexible on the journey”. Few plans survive first contact with reality. Plans change and so must the partnership.

The key is to keeping moving towards your goal. One highly-respected CEO, that I worked with, explained this point to middle managers by stretching both arms out wide and, looking forward, said, “Every step forward is a step in the right direction whether it is straight forward or diagonally forward. The two movements I don’t like are: backward steps or no steps.”

Tactic #6: Start today
Waiting rarely helps. If your global collaborations are dysfunctional, ignoring those dysfunctional elements never help. The problems get bigger, the culture at work gets toxic, you risk more cases of stress and burnout, and people may leave because they have had enough.

The biggest step is often the first step because it involves taking a risk. You’re vulnerable and you can’t control the outcome. You may get an outcome you don’t want or like. But the business costs of inaction are always higher.

Tactic #7: Celebrate the positive steps
There are a thousand ways to do this. Be creative. Show gratitude. Bring chocolates into the office on a Friday morning – to share! Take two minutes on your way home to reflect on three good things that your collaboration partners did that week. Visit the city/country where your global partners are. If you can’t do it on business travel, make it part of your holiday; it’s enough to have coffee or lunch together.

This is basic maintenance of the global partnership. Think of it like watering a plant. It’s the minimum you need to do to keep the collaboration going.

You can choose one or more of these tactics. All of them, done well, will keep the collaboration afloat. Because each tactic moves you towards the relationship, instead of putting distance between you and your partners. Be vulnerable because although it is risky, the rewards are fantastic for everyone.

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You have brought a direct positive impact on our sales… because people work more customer-oriented. Our efficiency levels... are continuously growing.

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Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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