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Organizing the Collaboration

Organizing between organizations takes shape by entering into professional partnerships with other organizations and is of strategic importance to an organization. In a highly competitive environment, organizations can thus work more cost-efficiently and concentrate more on exploiting opportunities. How? By doing what people are really good at.

Professional collaboration is defined as follows:

" A form of collaboration, in which autonomous organizations start to enter into sustainable agreements and thus coordinate parts of the work. It leads to a diversity of cooperative relationships that have a sustainable intention, but are by definition finite. "

There are three topics of interest in professional collaboration from the perspective of the organization involved.

1. Choose position in a group

There's a motley collection of groups active. The control and mutual relationships within a group have their own dynamics. Organizations increasingly have to choose whether and to what extent they want to belong to a group and which position they want to choose: the core, the ring or the free space. It's important to know which other organizations participate in that group, and whether you want to and can belong to more groups at the same time. As a result, the organization will partly lose its autonomous position as a unit of organization and the group will take on a more prominent role.

2. Building effective collaboration

A partnership is made up of organizations and their mutual relationships. The way in which organizations organize their relationships among themselves is an important success factor. Most organizations enter into partnerships at the same time, each of which has its own objective and intention. Each party involved in the cooperative relationship requires attention and its own way of organizing.

3. Sustainable development of the ability to cooperate

Ability to collaborate is a competence that allows organizations to distinguish themselves from others. The question is whether the ambition you've in the field of collaboration can also be realized, and how this capacity can be improved.

Select position

A modern director must have an overview of networks, networking and behavior within networks before charting a course for the organization. A network is a group of two or more organizations that have a collaborative relationship. Which questions are central to this?

The concept of cooperation here varies from knowing what's available to buying and actively performing activities together. Choosing the right group strategically means for the director that he recognizes, recognizes and assesses groups from a strategic angle.

The following questions are central to choosing the right group strategically:

- do I see groups in my area?
- what's my ambition when working in a group?
- is there a need to operate in a group?
- am I willing to function in a group?
- do I join a group?
- what are the consequences of working together in a group and are they acceptable?

There are a number of considerations when choosing a group. This isn't just about whether you want to be part of a group. The question of which position you want to occupy in this's also an important one. Important considerations for choosing the right group are:

- the anatomy of a group
- identifying groups
- formulating one's own ambitions when it comes to collaboration in groups (self-analysis)
- matching the ambitions.

The anatomy of the group

The composition of groups can vary greatly, but a basic structure can be observed. This concerns three clusters: the strategic core, the complementary ring and the 'free space'. A good position isn't necessarily a position in the strategic core.

The strategic core

The members of the strategic core are the driving force behind the group. They set out the vision, determine the strategy, define the entry and exit rules, the rules of the game and the code of conduct and develop common knowledge. The strategic core can consist of one or more parties.

The complementary ring

The members of the complementary ring fill the 'strategic gaps' in the group. They know the range of products and services and have certain knowledge and skills. They follow the strategy of the 'strategic core' and adopt game rules and codes of conduct. The players in the complementary ring have access to knowledge and information of the group, but, unlike the participants of the strategic core, they don't have the full set of knowledge and information. Core members determine what information the members of the stake receive.

The 'free space'

There's a 'free space' around the groups. Organizations in the 'free space' fill 'operational gaps' of groups using capacity, infrastructure, services and components. These members aren't strategically bound and are involved in the group in a transactional manner.

Identifying groups

In general, there's consultation between the major players in a market. In environments where developments follow each other quickly and players enter and leave the arena within a relatively short period of time, this can sometimes be difficult.

Directors are generally well aware of the presence of the more stable groups in their environment. In general, there's consultation between the major players in a market. In environments where developments follow each other quickly and players enter and leave the arena within a relatively short period of time, this can sometimes be difficult; think of the ICT sector or pharmacy and biotechnology.

Central questions in an environmental analysis where group formation is concerned are:

- is there group formation in the area?
- which groups can be identified?
- what's their common objective and how do they operate? Where does their strength lie?
- which organizations participate in those groups? Are they competitors or organizations that the organization also works with?

Formulating your own ambitions

On the one hand, self-analysis concerns your own ambitions. On the other hand, it's about the equity to work together effectively in groups. It's therefore about the answers to a number of questions.

- Does collaboration in a group fit into my ambitions?
- Is the organization itself able to form a group?
- Is the organization able to acquire a suitable position in the group?

Collaboration strategy

Directors who explicitly think about collaboration and their role in group formation can achieve better results. An instrument that provides direction in this respect is a cooperation strategy, a derivative of the organizational objectives. This answers the following administrative questions:

- For which activities do organizations consider working together in groups vital?
- What goals do organizations pursue with this group collaboration?
- What role and position does the organization want to play in these groups in order to achieve the goals?
- What priorities (and resources and attention) does the organization assign to group activities?

The answers to these questions give direction to the way in which individual partnerships are set up. Think of partner choice, the choice of the correct basic form of cooperation, and the nature and structure of agreements to be made.

Self-knowledge and knowledge about the group

Not every organization has the ability to collaborate effectively in groups. It requires the necessary self-knowledge and knowledge about what makes a group function well. Central questions are:

- is there enough strength and power to be actively involved in a group?
- can the organization partially let go of autonomy and to commit to the objective of a group?
- do the people within the organization have the courage and diplomatic skills to function in groups?
- are business operations and information technology organized in such a way that the organization can participate in groups without too much investment?

Matching ambitions

If an organization doesn't (itself) determine the rules of the game in the group, it must be prepared to play the game according to the rules of the group.

It's important that the director understands the group's dominant strategy. If an organization doesn't (itself) determine the rules of the game in the group, it must be prepared to play the game according to the rules of the group. It's about the functional match between the way in which the group is managed and the network strategy of the group. We distinguish three types of match between the organization and the choice for cooperation.

Functional match

The organization achieves a functional match if it has a clear picture of its own expectations of the cooperation in a group.

Match in control

The way in which organizations in a group cooperate, the management in the group and the way in which the activities are coordinated must be appropriate. Certain forms of group collaboration place specific demands on the choice of coordination instruments, but there's certainly some control room for the driver.

Match with the group strategy

It's also important whether you as an organization can agree with the strategy of the group. It would be na´ve to assume that all groups are geared to the selfless sharing of knowledge and information. There are groups aimed at the widest possible dissemination of knowledge and skills, but in the majority of the groups it can be observed that there are organizations or people who have a less noble objective, and are mainly designed to protect existing positions of power.

Build effective collaboration

In view of its objectives, which forms of cooperation can or should the organization apply, how should the organization organize cooperation, and which consultation and organizational structures are appropriate for this?

Working on a successful cooperative relationship mainly results in administrative design issues. Such as: choice of areas and ways of working together, selecting the partners, making the (contractual) agreements, organizing the working together, the manner of management and management of the working relationship.


"Which forms of cooperation can or should the organization apply in view of its objectives, how should the organization organize a cooperation and which consultation and organizational structures are appropriate for this?"

Four basic forms of collaboration

Not every form of cooperation is effective for a given purpose and circumstance; a situation and a time joint require an 'own' form of cooperation. The organization can professionalise cooperation by examining which form of cooperation best suits the goal: the choice of the basic form of cooperation. There are four different basic forms of cooperation that are available to the director for this, namely exploratory cooperation, entrepreneurial cooperation, functional cooperation and transactional cooperation.

Intent and nature of the cooperation

At its core, these are always two questions that relate to the purpose of the cooperative relationship. These questions are about the intention and nature of the collaboration:

- Intention of the collaboration: improvement versus innovation. Does the organization want to work (improve) smarter? or do they want to discover (renew) new possibilities?
- Nature of the collaboration: sharing versus exchanging. Does the collaboration require a lot of coordination between organizations (sharing and partially operating business functions and processes)? or does the organization limit cooperation to a sustainable form of exchange (exchange of products, services, information, knowledge)?

Depending on the objective, situation and moment, directors make choices about the parties they work with. Afterwards there's always a discussion about the form and design.

Exploratory cooperation

In the basic form of 'exploratory cooperation', organizations with a joint or similar assignment seek each other out and work together to renew their own level of knowledge. Because they learn from each other by exchanging experiences and knowledge, they create healthy conditions for carrying out the assignment.

Packaging covenant

The packaging covenant is an example in which organizations have jointly made agreements on how to deal with a specific facet of their business operations (the environmental facet) or, for example, the agreements on how to achieve standardized use of information sources. The parties connected in such cooperation aren't exclusively linked to each other, but are equivalent in their cooperation. This doesn't mean that the participating organizations are the same size, but equivalent in the sense that they've a comparable authority in the field of cooperation.

Run-up to more

What applies to the transactional and functional model also applies to the exploration and alliance model: the application of an exploratory cooperation can lead to a more intensive cooperation that's cast in the form of an alliance. In fact, most forms of cooperation will be intermediates and will therefore derive characteristics from two or more partnerships.

Enterprising collaboration

The source of the basic form of entrepreneurial cooperation lies in the recognition that organizations can't achieve strategic innovation on their own, but need a complementary party for this. The alliance (a term that's also widely used to indicate a relatively wide variety of types of cooperation) leads to intensive cooperation, in which the partners share competencies and skills to a large extent.

Commitment and equivalent

The parties demand full commitment from each other because the cooperation usually involves the input of information, technologies and knowledge that are of strategic importance to the partners. Protecting the results of the cooperation is an important motivation for the organization of the cooperation. Parties involved in the alliance are highly equivalent in the field of cooperation. However, they need to be comparable in size. It's more the weight that parties assign to each other's competencies, which shows this equivalence.

Alliances seek discovery and development; they're based on existing competencies, but they've an exploratory character and that energy can focus on anything: the penetration of new markets, the development of new products, the development of new technology.

Functional collaboration

In functional cooperation, a clear client and a contractor are recognizable: one partner takes care of the management of a business function of the other partner. This often includes a business function that isn't part of the outsourcer's core activities. Outsourcing to the other party means improvement because it's one of the core competencies of the 'contractor'.

Management of ICT systems

An example of this's the management of ICT systems. The partners are highly committed to each other. They make specific agreements about the way in which they coordinate their processes: they crawl into each other's skin, as it were, and share aspects of business operations. This increases their interdependence. The choice for a partner must therefore be very conscious and thorough.

Agreements with transactional cooperation

The functional and the transactional basic form share a number of characteristics. It's therefore not surprising that outsourcing relationships originate in more transactional forms of cooperation. Think, for example, of logistics where many service providers operate that started as a supplier of transport orders (transactional) and have developed into parties to whom the entire distribution is outsourced.

Transactional collaboration

Transactions are the core of transactional collaboration. The intention is to improve a production process or a chain and the cooperation is aimed at the effective and efficient exchange of people, products, services or information.

Transactions are at the heart of this form of cooperation. The intention is to improve a production process or a chain and the cooperation is aimed at the effective and efficient exchange of people, products, services or information. It's about more than 'ordering at random' (because the laws of the market simply apply). For example, by structurally exchanging forecasting information, by coordinating production and stock providers, by managing inventory management by the supplying party.

Changing partners

This type of collaboration is commonly found in the purchasing and procurement domain. A transactional collaborative relationship doesn't exclude other partners and changing partners is relatively easy to organize. In this type of cooperation there's a recognizable hierarchical relationship between a supplying and receiving party.

In the public domain, transactional collaboration occurs with the concept of chain management. This's defined as organizing and developing (better) services as experienced by the client, by enticing the (potential) chain partners to better coordinate their activities). The point is that the partners commit themselves to the issues of 'customers' (citizens, students, refugees, patients, prisoners, etc.). The organizations need each other to act in a demand-oriented manner. The point is to encourage each other to work together, because this's often not enforceable.

Ultimately, it's the intention that the 'customer' experiences well-coordinated services and isn't sent 'from box to wall'.

Sustainable development of the ability to cooperate

The chance of a successful cooperation relationship is greater when the partners have a knack for working together. This requires a special mix of individual skills, instruments, cultural characteristics and management style. Organizations that collaborate successfully have achieved this by systematically professionalising their collaboration. The director always asks himself: "How do the people in my organization and the organization as a whole increase their ability to work together, to organize between organizations?"

Incidental solution

If it's decided to use cooperation as an incidental instrument, then it must be pragmatic and well organized at that time. Those few partnerships that are concluded require adequate management attention, but one doesn't have to organize the organization accordingly.

Structural tool

It's also possible to choose to integrate the collaboration into the controller. This's done, for example, by expressing explicit goals and expectations about the effectiveness and the result of cooperative relationships. Then collaboration is used more as a structural instrument.

Way of life

The more there's talk of organizing between organizations as a 'way of life' and as a core competence, the more it'll determine the way of organizing internally. If collaboration is really anchored in the mission and vision of the organization, and the mission begins, as it were, as 'As a network organization, we want...', organizations must be equipped to do so.

Working together as an incidental solution

For some organizations, collaboration is like 'tap water': you don't think about it. Collaboration, partnerships aren't an issue: they're simply there. Organizations can't do without it and it goes without saying that they're there.

Acute necessity

In these organizations, cooperation is seen as a means that may come in handy at some point. For example, the construction company that wants to register for a work, but finds out that it lacks a number of expertise and references, and therefore seeks cooperation with an installation company for that work. Everything has to be thought up and arranged quickly.

Or the basic hospital where per top clinical patient or per complex intervention, the extent to which referral is at stake, and if so to whom. The referral can then differ per specialty. There are many examples of organizations that seek solutions for specific issues in the form of cooperation: Is ICT too expensive? Outsource. Not able to do the job alone? Establish a consortium. Does that one client require the data electronically? External integration.


These organizations think from their own organization, and see cooperation as an opportunity or as a solution to a problem. Collaboration isn't considered as a strategic issue, which is why we also call it implicit collaboration. This 'supplier management' is in the hands of individuals who mainly intuitively qualify as carriers of the collaboration. They use their intuition and negotiation skills. Since they close the deals, they're seen as the collaboration specialists.

Working together as a structural instrument

In itself, there's nothing wrong with 'working together as an incidental solution', unless an organization concludes that there's less than possible performance due to insufficient use of cooperation possibilities.

Unconsciously incompetent

In itself, there's nothing wrong with 'working together as an incidental solution', unless an organization concludes that there's less than possible performance due to insufficient use of cooperation options or because collaborative relationships are clumsy and counterproductive because of a lack of knowledge and experience on the subject. In many organizations, the fact that less is extracted from it than that isn't primarily due to inadequacy, people aren't aware of cooperation as an area for improvement.

Imagine, an organization gradually develops cooperative relationships and knows how to translate that into learning experiences. This translation into learning experiences is in fact a first intervention: collaboration as an object of learning. This leads to an improvement in the quality of cooperation, which can be seen in the greater effectiveness of partnerships entered into. In practice, many organizations are at a stage of "trial and error". For example, they outsource corporate functions and have internal guidelines for selecting partners and entering into outsourcing commitments.

Integrate into control

The next improvement can be achieved by integrating the cooperation into the control system. This's done, for example, by setting explicit goals and expressing expectations about the effectiveness and results of cooperative relationships. An organization also gains experience in setting goals, and this experience can also be registered as a learning experience and made accessible. Formalization of cooperation with other organizations takes place at this stage.


A good example is the construction company that has a number of ongoing agreements with installation companies, with project developers, with engineering firms, with carpentry and concrete factories. When a tender comes in to one of them, people know where to find each other quickly. People have already thought beforehand about risk and profit distribution, information exchange, contract form and the like.

Another example is the basic hospital, which collaborates with a top clinical training hospital, with nursing and care homes and, of course, with general practitioners. Agreements have been made in advance on referral, peer review, training, information exchange and the like.

Anchored in the objective

You can also think of the chemical group that has formulated in its objective that 75% of the growth must come from strategic alliances and partnerships. These are examples of organizations that have anchored cooperation in their objective. Because people often deal with different forms of cooperation, they're aware of the need to build skills in this area. Often the responsibility for cooperative relationships and for instruments is therefore entrusted to specific departments or persons.

Working together as a way of life

The third manifestation and development stage in this theme is the organization in which cooperation is a 'way of life'; the 'cooperative organization'.


When Unilever announces that it'll focus on managing brands and divests a significant part of its production and distribution capacity, it indicates that it wants to be a cooperating organization. Because putting such substantial business functions at a distance requires intensive attention to managing the collaboration that has arisen. In fact, Unilever can only pursue this strategy if it's confident of its own collaboration capabilities and has confidence in its collaborative ability.


Modularization plays an increasingly important role in the management and organization of these organizations. This means that the production or service process consists of various 'modules'. These modules contribute to issues from customers, patients, citizens, insured parties, clients and procurers. This collaboration doesn't only happen between organizations, but also increasingly within organizations. Chains are also being modularized and a customer proposition is realized with the help of various shared service centers. Groups are thus built up from various service or production units. If a module can't be found within the group (or isn't good enough), it's searched outside the group. This means that boundaries are increasingly blurred.


This concerns the focused construction company, specialized in directing, that does each work in collaboration with others and functions in a network of all relative experts who know how to find each other blindly in a new work. Whether the chain of clinics that have different cooperative relationships with health insurers, with specialists, with basic hospitals, with hotels, with home care organizations, and thus with relatively few staff and real estate, is still a matter of course due to cooperation. For example, there are different chains and networks that function as constellations. For these organizations, collaboration is fully anchored in their mission, vision and objectives, and collaboration is a core competence.

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