Collaboration – One Strategy Doesn’t Fit All

What Kind of Collaboration is Right for You?, which appeared in the December 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review, explores the use of collaboration networks to achieve innovation. The authors codify models for external collaborations as they have been used to develop products and services in the high tech, pharma, and consumer products industries. Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti are Professors of Business who propose a framework that can be useful for evaluating and selecting modes of external collaboration based on organizational requirements and market strategy. Their 2×2 matrix for classifying collaborations consider each potential joint activity along two axes. The Governance axis reflects the manner in which decisions about adoption or advancement of the collaborative product are to be made (e.g. flat v. hierarchical). The Participation axis (e.g. closed v. open) denotes the manner in which collaborators are selected or included for the project at hand. So, in short, collaboration can be highly controlled by the convener or “kingpin” (e.g. hierarchical and closed) or purely democratic (e.g. flat and open). Or a hybrid of these. Strategic selection of a collaboration mode is made based on the nature of the required outcome. Read the source article for examples along with advantages and disadvantages of each.

So what does this have to do with healthcare leadership? The authors predict that:”The new leaders in innovation will be those who can understand how to design collaboration networks and how to tap their potential.” So consider the design of innovative health care facilities and programs, the adoption of critical new technologies (such as EMR), or decisions about which services to develop on/off campus. It’s a no-brainer that neither hospitals not physicians can afford to move in these directions unilaterally – using only internal/employed expertise. It is uncommon for a hospital, for instance, to select and implement an inpatient EMR without obtaining some input from the voluntary medical staff members responsible for an inportant share of discharges. But exactly how and which physicians should be engaged in selection, customization, and implementation of that EMR is much less clear.

How will the hospital be certain that the best ideas come forward? That critical flaws in selection won’t come back to bite them during implementation when key physicians find it cumbersome and inefficient to use? Which collaboration strategy will serve best – highly controlled, highly democratic, a hybrid? Are the hospital’s best interest served by relying on the usual clinical or economic partners or will there be to its advantage to include other voices?

Professors Pisano and Verganti argue that these decision should be made intentionally and with due consideration to the ramifications and trade-offs of each approach. A consistently applied “this is how we do it” approach may risk sub-optimizing the result. Their framework offers a methodology not only for making this strategic choice for new initiatives but for clearly communicating it to all involved.