Companies that work well together are significantly more successful –





Strategic cooperation in the chain; how do you go from operational contact to board position?

Good cooperation both inside and outside the organization is an important prerequisite for success. This applies in business, but also in the public sector. Better chain cooperation starts with an understanding of other links in the chain’s interests, needs and expectations, say Frans van Rheenen and Robert Tjoe Nij, lecturers at NBA course Strategic cooperation in the chain.

They often act as advisers, trainers or coaches at organizations in both the public and private sectors and therefore have extensive experience with chain cooperation. “There has been quite a lot of research into organizations that work well together in chains and networks. For example, companies that can do this prove to be significantly more successful than organizations that are not so good at it. Many organizations are more inward-oriented than outward-oriented,” says Tjoe Nij.

Chain partners in the dark
Especially when the pressure increases, many people focus on their own tasks and responsibilities, adds Van Rheenen. “It’s very human. You focus on your core task, because that’s what you’re evaluated on at the end of the year. It just means you pay less attention to what’s happening in the environment. For example, people leave their chain partners in the dark . They notice the effects of this, but often have no idea where those effects come from. Meanwhile, the solution often lies in a simple conversation and in informing each other.”

The result is that the coherence of solutions is lacking, or that a solution is arrived at that is many times worse than what could be possible. Van Rheenen gives an example of a large semi-public organization. He arranged a workshop where employees from more than twenty different departments in the organization were represented.

At the start of the workshop, they were all instructed to write down what their tasks are and what their impact is on the customers. They were then asked to write down in other departments what they thought the department was doing, what they were surprised about, and where they thought there was overlap with their own activities. “In the end, everyone came to the conclusion that they did not know their own organization very well. We have repeated this exercise in many organizations and the picture is often the same.”

Behind initial questions lies the need
A first step to improving chain cooperation is for people to become aware of their own position. They must look at who they are dealing with in the chain, and what interests those people and organizations have, and what interests they may share. One way to initiate this process is to consider what issues are at stake for others. The so-called opening question is often an instrument to enter into a conversation. Behind the question lies a need, explains Van Rheenen.

“When people ask themselves this question, they find that they need more insight into what the other person is doing. When they realize this, we can start to build and look for ways for them to take a more directing role from their role. What do you need to know and how do you make the connection? And: how do you do that not only with people outside your own organization, but also with people within it?”

It is important that people also get clear what expectations others have of the collaboration. It must also be clear how the various links in the chain contribute to the functioning of the whole.

Each link can improve chain cooperation
It is often the last link where it becomes visible if the collaboration breaks down somewhere in the chain. However, this does not mean that it is always the task of the last link to take the initiative to improve chain cooperation, says Tjoe Nij. “The party that has the greatest interest in a good chain collaboration can sometimes be the right party, but it is certainly not always necessary. It can also be an organization with a vision or an organization that thinks strategically about the chain.”

It is precisely an organization in the middle of a chain that can take up the gauntlet, according to Van Rheenen. He gives an example of an organization that did well. It had suppliers on one side and distribution channels and customers on the other. “What made them so special is that they also saw their suppliers as customers and helped them fulfill their role in the chain as well as possible.”

Responsible person
This meant that the organization helped chain partners to scale up and make investments. The organization also ensured that the various parties in the chain understood each other. “When that wasn’t the case, we were allowed to help them in a role as business broker to get talking again. In this way, we rejected all the wrong assumptions. They reserved time and budget for this because they understood that they had to take control as the ultimate responsible for the entire chain.”

Van Rheenen concludes that there is much to be gained from better chain cooperation. “Ultimately, people in organizations must shape that cooperation. It starts with insight and seeing from your own place what you can and want.”

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