Building Partnerships Across the Organization

Harvard Business Review

February 11, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

The number one reason for mergers is synergy – which will, hopefully, lead to more profitability. If there is no “1+1=3” effect in joining with another organization, why bother to do it?

In spite of seemingly great synergy, many mergers fail. The main cause of failure in not bad strategic fit, it is the lack of integration of people and culture. Your question is critical – not only to the success of companies formed through mergers – but to almost all huge, global corporations. For example, a frequent criticism of Citicorp is that size without synergy can do more harm than good. That is why some investors are currently clamoring to break up the company.

Here are a few basic suggestions for managers that may help building synergistic partnerships across your organization:

1. Review the larger company goals, then focus on how your unit’s objectives relate to overall corporate success.
2. Identify other parts of the business that may be impacted by the work of your group and let them participate in the development of your goals and plans.
3. Have each person in your group identify cross-organizational colleagues with the potential for synergies and partnerships.
4. Develop a disciplined procedure through which each person regularly reaches out to their cross-organizational partners and asks “How can we better help each other?”
5. Establish monthly team meetings for sharing what has been learned and ensuring accountability.
6. Rather than defending your viewpoints, or protecting your organization try to methodically balance your views with those of your colleagues to build a sense of shared commitment to larger objectives.
7. Establish a regular best practices forum (this can be done online) in which participants from all areas of the organization discuss what is working. (GE has done a fantastic job of making this happen.)
8. Be willing to transfer some of your best talent to other parts of the business. This will both facilitate cross-organizational synergy and help develop potential corporate-wide leadership. (Admittedly, this one is much easier in theory than in practice!)
9. Finally, go first. If we wait for the other people across the organization to reach out to us – and they wait for us to reach out to them – both parties will only succeed in waiting, not in building partnerships.