Some descriptionSouth West Regional Chair Brian Doidge, provides us with a useful insight into the opportunities that are presented to those of us, who are willing to embrace collaboration, as a key professional behaviour for modern marketers.

Collaboration, along with other behaviours such as commercial awareness and financial literacy for example, is now formally recognised as one of the nine key behaviours that we as marketing professionals need to be able to demonstrate, in order to do our jobs efficiently and effectively and in turn contribute to the achievement of our business goals. The Professional Marketing Competencies, as we know, provide us with a useful framework of the skills and behaviours that are expected of professional marketers at varying levels of proficiency. These were of course developed via extensive research with employers and employees and give us the basis on which to assess our abilities as capable and competent marketers.

Over the last few months, I have been fortunate enough to have had several positive and timely reminders of this particular professional behaviour in practice and have been delighted to see at first hand the very positive things that can happen, when we as marketers make a concerted effort to build relationships and work together effectively.   In fact,  we as marketers usually know only too well that working with other individuals or groups to produce something worthwhile, is not only a many hands makes light work scenario, but it can also manifest a range of useful synergies that can result in surprisingly remarkable benefits for ourselves, our colleagues and of course very importantly, for our customers. 

I was recently reminded of a quote from the great Helen Keller, who as you may recall highlighted that “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” which I thought as well as being a really good quote, and perhaps even a succinct life lesson, it also provides us as marketers with a clear resonance with our own needs as professionals to carry out what the Romans knew as “collaborare”. The translation of collaborare today would be something like to pull together, or if you look closely at the word of course, it could even be to labour together and it is the roots of our own word collaboration, as well as being a modern Italian word of course.

It could be argued though that as a behavioural concept, it is sometimes a lot softer than we might reasonably expect, as it is also very much an approach rooted in a belief, something that we might now see of as a mind-set for example.  A point that was embraced by the Indian author and spiritual master, Amit Ray, who could not be accused of sitting on the fence, when he asserted his view that “collaboration is the essence of life” and in many ways of course for us as Professional Marketers, he may well be right! 

However, it soon becomes clear that we are probably going to need more than just inspiration alone to manifest the true spirit of “collaborare”, although it is at least a great place start I guess.  Many of us as Professional Marketers, will know only too well, through our own experiences, that effective collaboration does actually require some serious thought and effort.   If we are to have any chance of offsetting some of the inherent risks associated with moving out of our comfort zone and embracing potentially more ambitious aspirations, we need to stop and do some serious thinking first.  To embrace this phenomenon in its true spirit, will inevitably require us to interface with others that we may only know of initially, or indeed they may even turn out to be those who we would not feel inclined to know at all usually.  It then quickly becomes clear that the very dynamics of this scenario can at first sight feel very off-putting. 

In fact, in addition to our personal experiential learning of this and awareness of that of our peers, the challenges are also well documented.  For example, some of you may remember a very useful article published in the early part of this decade by the Institute for Government, who in October 2011, were highlighting their own findings that many attempts to encourage collaboration, were being met with stiff resistance and that creating meaningful collaborations, with a common purpose, usually turned out to be much harder than might be have been expected.   I am sure that we as Marketers might have at least some empathy with this.  Could it be that we must therefore recognise that any meaningful relationship, will take time to develop and require patience, diplomacy and a willingness to bounce back from setbacks?

For example, one of the challenges involved in getting a clear understanding, is that there is more than one way that this spirit of collaboration manifests in practice, for us as professionals.  This includes for example, inter-departmental working, as well the need to work with professionals in other organisations.   We hopefully already know that expecting others to be just like us, is never as realistic in practice, as it might sound in theory and yet it is perhaps ironic the very people who are not just like us are the ones that we usually need the most.   

Although clearly something of a must, working with differing personalities at least in the short term, often means that our emotional resilience will be frequently tested, as will how we personally fare at building positive personal and professional relationships, under some form of duress.  However, I seem to regularly find that it is our willingness as professionals to truly embrace compromise that seems to be at the centre of what is needed for collaboration to work well and very often this turns out to be very much more than we might like it to be!  Another important skill is always going to be empathy, which not only requires us to actively listen to the views of those we are collaborating with, but also to make a concerted effort  to see the world from their perspective too.  We also need to ask ourselves and indeed others, about the way in which our own traits and behaviours impact upon those we are collaborating with, if we are going to make a success of collaborative working.   If you want to truly master collaborare, it is usually best not to see it simply as a way of getting what you want, while you merrily disregard the needs of others.  Also it would certainly need to be more transformational than transactional.

As touched upon above, cross functional collaboration within the organisation has a set of dynamics, which should never be underrated and then there is the collaboration between two or more separate organisational business entities, which will have their own recipes for success of course.  There are thankfully commonalities between the two, but there are also some clearly differing characteristics we need to consider and if you want to see collaborationtruly adding value.  For example some professionals will take a relatively simple view, that this just an advanced version of team working and many of the principles and tools usually associated with this area of our practice can called upon and of course others see it as a more complex indeed risk laden phenomenon, requiring formal due diligence, service level agreements, indemnitees, formal reviews and a need for great negotiating skills.   

Homer was of course right when he pointed out that “Light is the task where many share the toil”, but there are also inevitable caveats and a need for an awareness of what is needed to manifest the many benefits. Successful collaboration, inevitably needs an acknowledged way of working together and agreed processes need to be put in place. There will always need to be trust and open communication, as well as shared goals and objectives.  There will also need to be a sense of shared responsibility, as well as a shared vision and common purpose.   The need for mutual respect for each other, which aligns well with a collective and personal commitment, will be very important if this professional behaviour is to have a positive impact in practice.   There will also need to be a set of qualitative and quantitative measures that we will mutually agree to use, as an appropriate way of monitoring and controlling the success of our agreed purpose.  In turn, we will need a demonstrable our willingness to address differences and resolve conflicts constructively and a capacity to listen and respond to others in an objective and productive way.  Encouraging regular contact, assuring open and honest dialogue and forbidding hidden agendas, will also contribute not only to longevity of collaboration, but also to quality and output. 

If more than one mind works on goal setting and decision making, there will inevitably be a better analysis of the possibilities and if we willingly work together with others to create and deliver the various activities required to realise our collaborative agenda, we can only move to a stronger place. If this is undertaken in a professional, diligent way that also recognises and respects the needs of others, as well as ourselves, we have moved a long way down the road to manifesting this professional behaviour.  Remember that the CIM as the world’s leading professional marketing body is there to support you and I wish you every success in your collaborative endeavours.