Competitors collaborate in the Mighty Waikato

Here at The Stakeholder Agency we’ve been continuing to explore competitors as key stakeholders and potential partners. Last week I showcased examples of some surprising “co-opetitions”/ collaborations between big brand competitors.

The types of initiatives shared may have seemed somewhat out of reach for SMEs, but the messaging can’t be denied… if Apple is prepared to look for growth opportunities with Microsoft, and if Toyota is to do the same with Ford… maybe, just maybe, it is worthwhile considering the benefit you too may gain from exploring such relationships.

In this article, I want to share a story of collaboration closer to home, in fact, one from here in the Mighty Waikato at the time of the Global Financial Crisis. So, let me take you on a journey ...

A number of years ago a major infrastructure project was taking place in a town 100kms from where I worked. A significant national company won the government contract and was set to turn the first sod in three months. In order to build their workforce, the government contractors needed to subcontract and look further afield, so they went to market with a notice to tender. The workload was substantial and well out of reach for the local industry.

The companies in the community I worked in did not meet the scale required by the contractor, they were small in size, limited staffing and had constrained resources. They were also in the midst of a period of time where they had to concentrate on keeping operations running smoothly and having a growth mindset was simply deemed a luxury. As a result, the opportunity to subcontract passed them by.

Being an outsider to the sector, yet one that held solid relationships with industry leaders it made sense to start introducing the idea of collaboration between local competitors in order to build capacity… and ultimately pitch for the contract “down the road”.

Conversations with each party went something like, “Imagine having a solid supply of work that could grow your business and the type of security that would come with it… well have I got the opportunity for you... but it begins with sitting down and having a chat with X (competitor)”.

At that time, the idea of collaboration between the industry competitors was completely foreign. After the initial shock of the suggestion, those who recognised the opportunity to work together met and I facilitated some conversations highlighting the benefits of such a partnership, designed a ‘terms of reference’ as to how the group could work together and all parties put expectations on the table.

What happened next was transformational… and it all simply resulted from opening the doors to communication.

It should be noted that the tender was not won by the group, but what the process did was allow industry leaders to share their strengths, discuss gaps, workloads, specialities, staff complexities, clients/projects and projected opportunities. The businesses involved started to look at sharing resources, jointly designing training opportunities, mapping workloads and overflows.

By these competitors pulling down the barriers in order to develop a tender for the work out of town, a future of collaboration was established. The businesses became more resilient and sustainable, staff in each firm were offered more security as the total industry workforce was moved to manage the workflow of the local sector and authentic relationships were formed to build each organisation’s capacity.

To this day each of the businesses involved continues to thrive as a result of this turning point in 2008 and still meet regularly to identify opportunities for local industry growth and development.

If you have ever wondered what it may be like to find a partner in your competitor/s and/or grow your business through relationships, call us to book a time to discuss your needs on 021 756 074.

Amanda HemaComment