5 principles for making ecosystem collaboration work

By ir. Pim Schouten

In blog 1, we elaborated on why it is important to shift from thinking in silos to thinking in ecosystems. It's the essence of the transition to a digital world. In blog 2, we explained five principles that characterize collaboration in ecosystems.

IT ecosystems, ecosystems, collaboration, organizations, synergy

Successful collaboration in ecosystems

Due to the continuous exchange of data, everything is increasingly interconnected, and everyone is connected to everyone else. Choosing to collaborate beyond the boundaries of one's own organization and understanding the ecosystems in which we operate is essential to efficiently and effectively utilize available resources. We assume that an ecosystem includes multiple parties, with the customer being one of them. An ecosystem also has a long-term goal that extends beyond the organization itself. This shared goal provides stability to the ecosystem while remaining adaptable to the dynamics of the environment and different partners. Sometimes it leads, sometimes it follows. If a partner drops out, a new one is sought to complement the system.

Five principles influencing success

We recognize five principles that can make collaboration in an ecosystem successful. These principles are derived from interviews conducted with directors and actors in the field of performing arts. In this comparison with the practice of performing arts, we assume that an ecosystem is sometimes deliberately created to achieve a specific goal. 

The central question in the interviews was: How do they ensure synergy within the group so that the message they want to convey reaches the audience? 

Note: The order of the principles is not important, and their application is iterative; it is never finished. 

  • Each party in an ecosystem has its own value for the function that the system serves (if not >> departure). This means that the function of the system is known, and parties are aware of it and committed to it. It also means that parties consider the impact of their contribution on the functioning of other parties in the system and the overall outcomes. 
  • 'Bring the system in the room.' Only when you meet each other physically does understanding and respect for each other and each other's functioning develop. This deepens and brings relevant questions and creative solutions to the surface. Working in ecosystems means working in N to N relationships. You have to hear, see, and taste each other to grasp the complexity of the bigger picture. 
  • Collaboration is a process that develops over a longer period (just like trust, solidarity, intrinsic motivation). Every person (and organization) has a role and responsibility in this. Give collaboration time. 
  • The relationship supports the system (functions are replaceable). Focus on the connection and what crosses the line, both interpersonally and in terms of data. Responsibility for data often persists even when data is in the hands of another party. Transparency is an important concept in this context. 
  • There is room for individual input and creativity to shape the goals. This space is created when specific guidelines for how to collaborate (the connection) and for the result are provided. From time to time, calibration is necessary: where are we, do we still serve the same purpose, what relevant developments are happening within the participating organizations and in our environment. 

These five principles characterize a horizontal view of collaboration, based on equality and an open connection. They impact our management style and way of organizing. In practice, it is not always easy to implement them. Many organizations are still organized in silos. And we still want to retain control over something, while control plays a decreasing role in ecosystems. In the next blog, we will provide practical examples of horizontal collaboration. The main conclusion: Regulating ecosystems begins with oneself!

Want to know more?

Highberg has extensive experience in issues such as these. Therefore, please contact us with your questions about management, ecosystems or other digital challenges.

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