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There are times when collaboration seems like an uphill battle, especially in a highly competitive industry where billions of lives (and dollars) are at stake. But this was exactly the situation pharmaceutical companies found themselves in during the race to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. Every company was clamoring to be the first — and to do it on an impossible timeline.
In an incredible turn of events, Pfizer partnered with BioNTech to create a vaccine. BioNTech brought multiple vaccine candidates to the table, and Pfizer contributed its experience running successful clinical trials. In January 2021, French drug company Sanofi joined the partnership and agreed to manufacture 125 million doses, despite being a direct competitor of BioNTech. The factors working against this collaboration were extraordinary, but the upside of success was too great to ignore.
One thing I’ve learned in leading large-scale initiatives is that any time goals are strongly aligned — as they were with the vaccine — there is a window for successful collaboration in the marketplace. Whenever you need to get buy-in from people outside your sphere of influence, it helps to look for this window. Perhaps your company is developing a new product that requires collaboration between finance and marketing. Maybe your company lacks infrastructure or funds for a transformation initiative and needs to partner with another organization. In cases such as these, it’s important to think about the benefits of collaboration in the marketplace for all parties involved and then create a successful partnership for every stakeholder.
Here’s how to enhance collaboration in the marketplace with those in and outside your sphere of influence:
1. Think of every relationship in terms of its future potential.
Getting buy-in from stakeholders requires relationship-building, yet you never know how impactful those relationships might be six months or six years down the line. Not only do you have the chance to create a lasting impact through the projects you help execute, but you also expand your personal network, which can lead to new opportunities.
A few years back, I met an insurtech founder who was only interested in talking with “potential investors.” Although I wasn’t an investor, a colleague influenced the founder to meet with me as a potential mentor. In our first meeting, we uncovered that the founder was building a regulated product and needed to redesign their systems. Fast-forward months later, and they reached out for a mentor who understood B2B distribution. Years later, the founder launched a new business and came back to me for guidance on selling in the affinity marketplace.
This is the power of relationships. Even if a collaboration is difficult at the start, it can help to think of each relationship in terms of its future potential. Up to 70 percent of partnerships fail to deliver their intended outcomes, mostly due to a lack of focus on building the relationship for the long term. Partnerships often start with goodwill, but they quickly devolve when not enough time is spent on strengthening the bond. It takes time to build a successful relationship, so focusing on what both parties want out of it in the future makes it easier to commit to it in the present.
2. Foster relationships with diverse teams.
Research shows that collaboration happens more naturally when people perceive themselves to be similar to the people they’re working with. Yet today, teams tend to be large, diverse and full of educated experts — and for good reason. Research shows that diverse thinking boosts innovation by 20 percent. What’s more, companies with high gender diversity in their leadership teams are 25 percent more likely to have above-average financial gains.
Having people with different backgrounds and experiences is incredibly valuable, but leaders should be aware that these types of teams can have a harder time building collaboration and trust in the marketplace. It takes time and intentionality to build relationships with and within diverse teams because we naturally gravitate toward people like us.
It doesn’t matter how valuable you think the partnership could be. People do things for their own reasons, and it’s helpful to understand those reasons. They might be committed enough to the success of the initiative to put their differences aside, or you might have to convince them of the mutual benefits. Regardless, it’s important to communicate what’s in it for them.
3. Listen for what others might miss.
Leaders want to know how to enhance collaboration in the marketplace, yet they often discount the importance of listening. All too often, we aren’t actively listening. We’re thinking about something else or gearing up for our reply while the other person is speaking without actually hearing what they are saying or engaging with it thoughtfully and compassionately. Not only does this rob people of their dignity, but you also miss an opportunity to build rapport and learn something new.
Active listening It becomes doubly important when you add in cultural differences. In the US and Europesocial relationships aren’t usually the determining factor in whether we do business with someone, but this is not the global norm. In Latin American cultures, relationships are everything. In Asian and Middle Eastern business dealings, socializing is how people build trust.
Getting buy-in from stakeholders often comes down to making them feel heard — showing that you understand their challenges, frustrations and hang-ups. Sometimes, you have to read between the lines, listening to not just what someone is saying but how they say it. If you aren’t listening intently and empathetically, you might miss out on key pieces of information that could have enhanced the partnership. For instance, maybe the person you’re speaking with isn’t showing enthusiasm or isn’t as expressive when talking about one specific part of the initiative you’re discussing. Rethink that aspect and give other ideas, paying close attention to how they react.
4. Let your heart, brain and vision work in tandem.
As you build rapport with your collaborators, you’ll learn what they find most important. Some people care most about numbers and data; others need to fully understand the vision. No matter what type of person you’re working with, you should still use everything you have: your heart, your brain and your vision.
If you’re seen as an expert or have access to proprietary information, lead with your brain (the logical argument). You can start by making a suggestion and then listing the reasons, this outcome will appeal to the other party. Paint a picture of what the future could look like. Use the present tense as much as possible, and bring them into the vision with words such as “we” and “our.”
If you still sense resistance, use your heart to achieve fruitful collaboration. Listen to what others are saying, and ask thoughtful questions. The key is to identify areas where you might be able to get their cooperation more easily if you’re willing to be flexible (heart).
When working with multiple stakeholders, it can be challenging to achieve alignment and work toward a common goal. These things don’t happen overnight; you have to look for that rare window for successful collaboration in the marketplace. Putting time and care into building relationships is worth it — after all, relationships are at the heart of any successful collaboration effort.