Collaboration – Foe or Friend

Collaboration is one of those words that is banded about freely. I’ve heard the “we collaborate with Wordclouds_conflictSour suppliers”, “collaboration is such a key part to our success”, “…and we must collaborate together”. A great noun that is over used. We would all love to be collaborating; it makes us feel warm and fluffy like a good friend should.


Truth being, for many businesses, it is a want and not a reality. The reality is so different. The reality is it takes time, personal investment, monetary investment, professional investment, a real want, a real knowing of why and crucially it is a long term investment, not a one-off effort. The obvious investment in the collaboration comes to the fore when there is real pressure applied. In a recent (February 2014) interview with Alan Coole, Head of EMPA he highlights “People don’t understand how to collaborate. … and in particular what happens is under pressure people revert to type, so at some point the person might have been taught how to collaborate but once they’re put under pressure for whatever reason, they will revert to aggression rather than collaboration”.

What does this mean to the parties involved?

Recently I received a letter from my local Council Leader, who was writing with regards to the late arrival of Council Tax bills. In this, she writes “Unfortunately, due to an errors by our contractors…” she then names the contractors and the problem and she then takes the credit for the solution adding. ”I have decided…”

Where is the collaboration here? What impact does this blame culture have on clients’ confidence in the Council’s ability to deliver? Personally, my sympathy went to the contractors and the irritation went directly to the Leader of the Council.

Let’s look at what collaboration is capable of.


We like the idea of collaboration, it’s a buzz word. It has the other party sitting up and listening as we broadcast our wisdom on the subject. We get the other party’s nodding and approval and it feels good and so it should. If we were to see this through as a long term investment, our return on investment would outweigh the initial outlay.
With collaboration brings trust and respect, the knowing that both parties are working towards the same goals and objectives. Mutual Gain, there is clear and transparent gains for all parties, no party is trying to get something at the expense of the others, or in exclusion of the other parties. A learning environment¸ where mistakes are recognised, owned up to, owned and learnt from. No-one blames, no one hides them, they are seen as learning experiences. Can you imagine? No more emailing everyone, everything? No more finger pointing, no more fear. With a learning environment comes support through the good times and the bad. Coole articulated that for him “Part of collaboration is we remove a blame culture so we get called in to help on various situations and one of the key aspects of getting a resolution is that I know full well that both sides will have done something incorrectly. So if I say you’ve done that, that’s a start. Many clients are under pressure and many things go wrong that’s just the nature of life isn’t it.”

Maclaren 2009 Buggy recall

A great of example of where support, trust, respect and more came in to play during the bad times, was between Mothercare and Maclaren buggies. Back in 2009 Maclaren had to recall one million buggies following finger injuries to 12 children. It was a PR nightmare due to the recall being leaked before Maclaren were ready to go public. They had customers and clients leaving them in droves; however, with a solid collaboration between Malaren and Mothercare firmly entrenched, not only did Mothercare not leave, they publicly supported Maclaren through the crises. Can you imagine, you made a mistake and your client voluntarily supports you through the very public crisis? You can only imagine the trust and respect that was being shared between both of those companies.

I leave this with you, is collaboration your friend or foe?

Changing Attitudes | Influencing Behaviours | Impacting Outcomes…


Margo Manning is Managing Director of Bute Learning and Development and Margo Manning Ltd. Margo is a professional speaker and Executive Coach.

Margo has been in the development arena for 20 years and more specifically in coaching for 11 of those.  Margo has worked with companies such as UBS, Goldman Sachs, AON, Balfour Beatty, Brunswick LLP, BBMV, Tower Hamlets Homes to name a few.

Contact Margo on +44 (0)20 3489 6734 or email