Mending Fences with Alliance Partners

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Dear Linda,
I have new high-profile job in strategic alliances and my charter is to build and strengthen an alliance with a former (and current) competitor in specific niche areas. We have had a relationship with this company for years, and it has not always gone well, so it has been difficult to launch new relationships and programs. Do you have any suggestions on how best to do this?
She-who-is-mending-fences
Dear She, it sounds like you have a very tough and very important job. I hope that the advice below helps you bridge the two sides.
1. Kudos to your company for hiring you and making a commitment to mend fences and collaborate with a partner who is also a competitor. This type of leadership and thinking will become more prevalent in the emerging economy. Find out who from the management team is behind it and build a relationship with him or her to ensure that you deliver what they have in mind, and understand why there is enough interest to put money and people behind it.
2. Along a similar vein, why is this important to the management team from the other side?
3. Research the history of the relationship – what went right, what didn’t go so well, what’s broken now, what commitments are outstanding, etc 4. If you can fix something that’s broken, try to do so. If you can’t, at least be transparent and talk about it and reach an agreement.
4. Bring input and suggestions from these conversations to the stakeholders at all levels on your side or better yet, both sides.
5. Either start with a clean slate or build upon progress already made and get consensus first internally and then collaboratively with your peers on the other side.
6. Make sure that all parties affected are part of the communication thread and are empowered to give feedback and suggestions and input.
7. Communicate directly and transparently to all parties, especially when there is turmoil.
8. It’s difficult to get people to get along when they are not so inclined. They may go through the motions for awhile, but unless there is mutual respect and trust, it’s nearly impossible to keep people on the same page, marching toward the same objectives. So build relationships and consider making team changes if relationships aren’t destined to gel.
9. Because it’s a difficult task and stakes are likely high, it the grounding and support you need to stay focused, to not take things personally, and keep things in perspective.
10. On the up-side, if you can do this well, you would be well-positioned to do similar and even more challenging leadership and collaboration tasks, something certain to help you rise up the corporate ladder.
Best of luck in mending those fences!
Linda

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