Competitor Collaboration

Sustainability leaders are setting aside competitive advantage to achieve something bigger.  
NBS September 7, 2017
Sustainability challenges are typically too big for any individual company to tackle. So organizations are starting to collaborate. They’re pooling resources, intelligence, and leadership to tackle common sustainability goals. 

Some are even collaborating with their competitors. This is a big shift in thinking. Competitive advantage is a frequently touted incentive for organizations to embrace sustainability in the first place. But, leaders are setting aside competitive advantage. They’re working with competitors to elevate the level of results and make a significant difference.

Working with Competitors

Managers  and other practitioners want to understand the stages of a competitor collaboration and common challenges. Ultimately, they want to improve their collaborations. 
 
Researchers Dr. Lori Divito and Dr. Garima Sharma outline these stages and provide tools to help collaborators navigate inevitable tensions.  
Stages of Collaboration
Collaborations  must balance two core tensions – cooperation vs. competition and informal structures vs. formal structures. Yet, different collaborations balance these elements differently. 

Managers, industry association representatives, and NGO professionals can use the tools to reflect on where they want to land, structure their collaboration, adopt and adapt best practices. 

The tools help bring clarity to initiatives addressing complex, systemic sustainability challenges. 

Starting with Non-Competitors?

Working with non-competing organizations – non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profits, or government agencies – is often no less daunting than working with a competitor. These collaborators often have fundamentally different structures, ways of operating, and reasons for existing. 

For these types of collaboration, Dr. Barbara Gray and Dr. Jenna Stites reviewed over 275 relevant articles and reports. In their research, they provide explicit guidance on how to select the right partner and manage the partnership process. 
 
Some partnerships achieve partners’ basic goals, or favour one partner over the other. Gray and Stites outline a path towards collaborative partnerships, which achieve the greatest benefit for both partners — and the greatest innovation.

Related Resources

Systematic Review

Barbara Gray and Jenna Stites reviewed more than 275 publications to develop a model of four factors affecting outcomes of multi-sector partnerships. 

NBS
Executive Report

Sustainability is a global problem with no single solution. Collaborative partnerships may be the key to tackling sustainability challenges going forward.

NBS
Case Study

Multi-sector partnerships can help solve complex sustainability issues. This one resolved a decades-long conflict in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest.

Maya Fischhoff
Case Study

Boundaries of the mega-city have come and gone, but Montreal's sustainable community plan (SCP) prompted by the agglomeration demonstrates continuity.

Tara Hadler