In our series of articles dealing with effective teams in the workplace we have been highlighting that although teams play such an important part in personal development and business delivery we often do not appreciate the different team structures there are. In particular, different arrangements or delivery requirements call for different team structures and the purpose in this series has been to set out what different structures look like and how they can be made to effectively deliver in the workplace.

Today’s article looks at business alliance teams and like all of our articles your comments and feedback is always welcome.


So what is a business alliance team?

A business alliance team is one that is comprised of members of different organisations or business units working together as part of a strategic alliance. So this could be within a business itself with the team working across different units within the business or separate firms coming together to access knowledge and skills that they otherwise do not have in-house or wish to in-source directly themselves.

Although not covered in this article Larraine Segil makes an important distinction between offline and online business alliances. Her book Fast Alliances: Power your E-business makes a very good read and in particular how you can harness these types of team structures in delivering real leverage for your online business.

Of course these types of virtual team structures do create their own issues and we have covered some of these in our article Effective Virtual Teams in the Workplace.


Obstacles to business alliance team success

Although these team structures can provide real synergies for business, in particular where they can leverage the knowledge and skill base of other firms, these structures do encounter a number of obstacles to their success. Five of the most common obstacles alliance teams often face are:

1. Lack of a shared culture: the breakdown in relationships in business alliance teams is often attributable to trying to forge links between organisations with incompatible cultures and forcing team members with different values and ways of working to work alongside each other.

Troubleshooting tip: the problems of different cultures need to be addressed at the outset of business alliances teams. Determining and agreeing what the values, norms and standards, and the ways of working of the team are going to be is an essential step in getting its members to work towards common goals.  Recognising how other team members prefer to behave and act can often prepare members for unexpected or different methods of working that are not normally part of their experience.  Consider using a trained facilitator.

2. Failing to agree business alliance team processes: failure to agree processes for communication, decision making, problem solving, review and evaluation (amongst others) can lead to the breakdown in relationships as partners become frustrated with lack of progress and become bogged down in detail.

Troubleshooting tip: Time spent at the front end deciding key processes for the team is invaluable in helping alliance teams to work together.  Having some members of a team who are process orientated and who can map out key processes can provide the team with valuable templates in which to address issues from the formation through to the termination of a partnership.

3. Closed communication: the failure of business alliance team members to communicate frequently and openly with each other leads to an atmosphere that can both be formal and distrusting. This can exacerbate any personality clashes, which already exist.

Troubleshooting tip: agree communication processes and spend time building relationships in a face-to-face environment so that people can build personal relationships with other team members - meeting on neutral territory and in a social environment can encourage open dialogue. Ultimately alliance success depends on good working relationships between partners.

4. Common Purpose: failure to agree a common purpose for a business alliance team often means that members are working towards their own organisation’s agenda at the expense of that of the alliance. Individual personalities often take over when there is no agreed purpose and alliance issues take a back seat.

Troubleshooting tip:  Spend time agreeing and articulating a common purpose that can act as a reference point for future discussions. Communicate this purpose often using different media. Use the purpose statement in reviewing team effectiveness and progress.

5. Failure to link reward with business alliance success: according to Larraine Segil, author of Intelligent Business Alliances, failure to link individual alliance team member’s pay and reward to alliance outcomes is a common reason why teams fail. Too often individual reward is linked to narrow organisational goals rather than broader alliance issues. And hence the barrier of organisational culture is reinforced rather than broken down and true synergies from complimentary skills and shared outcomes is diluted.

Troubleshooting tip: build in reward structures which emphasise the importance of business alliance team outcomes and which focuses the team on working as an alliance team towards common goals and agreed outputs.  This could also involve creating opportunities where the team come together to jointly celebrate success. The alignment of outcomes and rewards is a critical step as team members will generally focus their energy on where the greatest reward will be derived from.

Creating an effective business alliance team

Despite these types of challenges there are a number of steps that can be implemented so that team members work more effectively together and so provide the best opportunity for synergies to be generated. Steps that could a team manager could implement include:

  1. set out a clearly agreed and continually reinforced team purpose;
  2. a concerted effort across the whole team to foster a common team culture;
  3. encourage a flexible approach from team members, bearing in mind the different cultures, expectations and pressures that each brings to the unit;
  4. including a diverse skill set of members that complement not only each other but will be necessary in ensuring the delivery of the purpose and vision.
  5. link individual reward with alliance team outcomes;
  6. developing a cohesive team environment in which organisational turf issues do not paralyse the output of the wider alliance team;
  7. emphasising high candour and openness amongst members. Emphasising that open and clear communication will provide a pivotal tool in ensuring the team works effectively together;
  8. holding regular reviews to assess team effectiveness and have some clear set benchmarks or gateways that provide a means of assessing this effectiveness;
  9. agreeing roles and responsibilities of team members; and
  10. celebrating success and sharing the limelight; not only within the team but also ensuring the wider organisations acknowledge and share in this process.