Six ways to improve collaboration across companies and countries

Two people from different companies talking to each other through video call, with a cat in the foreground
June 16, 2020



Despite the fact that I’ve never had a particular interest in basketball, I’ve been glued to the screen watching The Last Dance, a Netflix special about the rise of the Chicago Bulls and their star, Michael Jordan. Standing at 5’2” (158 cm) might have something to do with my lack of interest. So, why am I stuck to the screen every Monday evening?

Great storytelling may have something to do with it. I’m certainly engaged by the diversity and struggles of the different players and their egos. But I think I’m mostly fascinated by the way a newly formed team with good leadership managed to overcome all of their differences and win six NBA championships. 

It’s not a secret that teamwork is hard. Creating an environment where individuals can work together effectively can take some time — but you can expect some great results once you’ve figured it out. In my role as a partner marketing manager, I work with our partners to highlight their work and the work we do together. This is one of the aspects I love about my role! I’m grateful to get to work with people from different backgrounds, countries and companies. 

I’ve learned a lot about collaborating across companies while working with our partners.

In this post, I wanted to share my experience from a recent webinar series with our partner Appnovation and customers Alpro and Fitch Ratings. We are no 90s Chicago Bulls, but we are pretty proud of our results. 

Build trust through interaction

First things first, make time to get to know each other. Get everyone who will be involved in the project on a joint call. Zoom calls with ten-plus participants can be a bit chaotic, seem forced and make you feel like ideas and agendas are all over the place — but I promise that taking the time to get to know the people on the other side and understand their involvement in the project is important. It allows you to build trust within the team that simply can’t be replicated with an introductory email thread. 

Develop a flexible project plan and keep referring back to it

This might sound obvious, but how many times have you spent hours creating the perfect deck to outline every step of the project only to forget it? Keep it simple and flexible — you are now working with people from outside your company and internal processes. Create a shared document or deck that stakeholders can easily access. This can be a shared Dropbox folder, a PowerPoint presentation, Google Doc — whatever works best.

We like Google Docs and Slides options, because everyone has access to the latest versions and they have helpful collaboration features with control settings that you can adjust. Having an up-to-date single source of truth helps the group make decisions together, provides an overview of progress and helps to quickly solve any blockers. Just make sure it’s simple and that all stakeholders know which part they need to fill out and keep up to date. Which leads me to the third tip.

Define roles and responsibilities

Working with partners and customers means that, in addition to working with your own team, you are working with their teams. Often everyone is on a short timeline and doesn’t have the benefit of joint history or the opportunity to organize team-building activities in advance to learn how to work together.

Tools like responsibility assignment matrices (RACI) or frameworks like RAPID that you may already be using internally are a good idea to know who is who and what is expected of them in the project. 

There should be one main point of contact that represents each party involved that is responsible for communicating internally and externally. They should also be the ones driving the project or projects forward. 

Frequent communication is key

Communicate frequently and agree beforehand on how you want to communicate. Taking a few minutes to discuss what channels you want to communicate through and how frequently can save a lot of time afterwards. No one feels good about spending time frantically searching through emails or trying to schedule a last minute call that fits ten different people’s schedules across four different time zones.

Sending calendar invites ahead of time helps with the coordination of our busy schedules, helps keep everyone on track and the project moving forward. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are useful for quick communication and allow you to create channels with external users. 

In your communication, don’t make assumptions and be transparent. We are all learning and being open and honest about what’s going on, what’s going well and what might not be going so well will help improve overall collaboration and quickly fix whatever needs fixing.  

Be kind to everyone involved 

Have patience, be respectful and offer help. We all have something to contribute and are doing our best, and that’s sometimes easy to forget. 

I have to admit that when watching The Last Dance, the passionate clashes between teams and trash talk on the court were entertaining, but in real life no one likes to work with people who are rude and uncooperative. Especially during current times where many of us are running out of patience and are trying to juggle working from home, our families and now a cross-company collaboration across countries. 

Celebrate success! 

Lastly, celebrate your success. Don’t forget to take a moment to congratulate everyone who helped with the project and take a moment to reflect on what you achieved by working together. It was a pleasure working with the Appnovation, Alpro and Fitch Ratings teams. 

Many thanks to our speakers and to Nassim Najm at Appnovation who is our MVP. We didn’t win a championship, but we are pretty proud of the end result of the webinar series. If you would like to have a look at the webinars with Alpro and Fitch Ratings you can find the recordings here

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