The Olympics remind us how much we appreciate winners and how much we like winning ourselves. We like the feeling of accomplishment at the end, in spite of what is very often a long and difficult road. Actually, we like winning because of the difficult road. Because even if we know the price we paid, we see then that it has been worth it.
But winning cannot happen without collaboration nor without giving up. To win in sports, even if you compete in an individual sport, you need a team to support you. Also, it means giving up comfort, control, and personal preferences, in order as a team to submit to a higher goal – through discipline, focus, and hard work. It takes collaboration, and it takes a team for one to win.
The characters in sports are always the same. There’s the one who has a goal – the athlete, and there’s the one that supports him in the goal – the trainer. The athlete knows where he wants to go, what he wants to accomplish – while the trainer knows how to do it because most likely he has helped others on the same journey.
I believe any healthy commercial relationship has the same aspects. There’s the buyer – the most important part because he has the need, the vision, the goal he’s trying to achieve and, hopefully, the money to pay for it. And for specific things, the buyer need a partner – someone who has expertise in a certain domain because he’s done it a lot of times before.
(As a side note, I am not talking here about the case when the buyer is also an expert in the problem he needs solving, and all he needs are hands to execute it. That’s a different scenario, but even then collaboration and clarity in expectations and roles are key.)
And usually in a buyer – vendor relationship things start great. Ideally, the two sides start by aligning on what needs to be accomplished. And then they start working on it. However, things happen as they always do. And during the exceptions that occur, when things don’t go as planned for different reasons, there’s a strong temptation on both sides to start taking decisions independently and not work as a team. For the buyer, the temptation is to take over control and to start defining how things need to be done independently. And for the vendor, the same temptation is translated into giving up ownership and just asking to be told how to do it, so that he’s not responsible for any downsides.
And when that happens, at first everyone seems to be happy. The buyer is happy because he feels in control. The vendor on the other side can be happy because, when there will be more bumps in the road (which will surely happen), they will be the buyer’s fault because now he’s in control. The truth is that both sides lose. The buyer loses the expertise for which he is paying – he is now getting a partner that just executes. While the vendor loses the chance to really contribute, has the feeling of not really making a difference and this leads to internal frustration and high personnel turnover on that project.
One of the most striking observations from our statistical data is that in the projects we have done there is a strong correlation between result orientation and overall satisfaction. The more ‘result oriented’ the relationship is (namely, having a transparent goal, known by all team members, with defined roles for both sides leading to clear ownership on the vendor side), the happier both parties are. And even if the projects are challenging, people stick to it because they know why they’re paying the price. On the other hand, there are projects that should be easy from a technical perspective, and still, they create a lot of frustration on both sides, because collaboration is not going as planned and because roles are not defined.
Winning takes effort, blood and tears and, of course, money. But maybe the biggest price to pay is sticking together as a team and giving up control.