Sharing the path – Strategic collaboration

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The opportunities presented by strategic partnerships can be staggering.  Making them a reality can be daunting.  When the goal requires cross industry and sector collaboration, complexity and ambiguity can stand between a great opportunity and success. 

I recently had the opportunity to bring together a group of passionate and smart people to help frame a high level pathway for an important outcome. The goal is significant for all stakeholders in this forum commercially and strategically. The details in this case are sensitive but the problem of navigating complexity will be familiar to many of us.

So how best to bring clarity to a problem and agree on a shared path moving forward? These are my reflections after a rewarding day.

Strategic Intent

Why? As always at Three Chairs we start with ‘why?’ We spoke to each participant prior to coming together to understand why the opportunity was important to them. As an independent consulting firm, Three Chairs was able to bring together these perspectives and play them back to the participants with concise transparency.

We identified common interests as well as different views, and used facilitated discussion to explore and align perspectives.  This allowed us to be clear on our strategic intent, our common purpose. 

With a clear and agreed purpose certain complex scoping aspects soon fell away. Simplicity of intent and goals is key. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” 

Independent Skilled Facilitation

‘How do we know what we know?’ This question is core to our approach at Three Chairs and was our next step in facilitating this session. We moved to clearly defining the challenge. What do we know? What don’t we know? How will we move forward to better understand the gap?

One of the benefits of using a facilitator is that we can easily ask the questions no one else wants to ask – everything, from acronyms, to questions about sharing cost of capital. No question is too dumb or too thorny. Asking these questions leads to greater clarity for everyone involved.

Draw a picture

In complex situations, sketching out the landscape is a powerful mapping tool, particularly when seeking to distil complex information precisely. In this case, once participants could see where they were in the soup, questions about roles and responsibilities became acutely focussed.


I paraphrase a lot. The importance of repeating back and confirming points and arguments is key to collaboration. Listen also to the unspoken, to weak signals, silence does not always equal agreement. Call it out and obtain confirmation that the parties are in agreement, or not!

Define the First Next Step

I am a great believer in defining the ‘first next step’. With participants clear about their shared objective and roles and responsibilities, ambiguity about what to do next is lessened. We may not have a detailed roadmap but we definitely won’t get there unless we take the first steps.


In relationships, mutual understanding breeds trust. Moving forward in strategic collaborations, participants need to consider communication protocols and governance frameworks. These background structures can snag us and redirect energy away from common goals. When all participants better understand clearly ‘why’ they need to share a pathway then the road rules can be simplified and focussed on principles, rather than regulation.