Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

External collaboration: Working collectively to find solutions

Published on May 8, 2015

Part 3 of 7 in the series: Sustainability Leadership Competencies

In my first article, Sustainability Talent Management: Lofty Goal or New Business Imperative?, I provided an overview of the five essential sustainability competencies needed by business leaders to steer their organizations through the dynamic terrain of the coming decades. The first competency I discussed was systems thinking. In this article, I make the case for companies adding “external collaboration” to their existing leadership competency models to position their firm for future success.

Collaboration isn’t a new core competency for business leaders; to succeed in organizations, leaders must work together with others. The shift, though, is the focus on external collaboration. Achieving sustainability goals and improving impacts requires that leaders join forces with other organizations to tackle systemic sustainability issues in the value chain and the business operating context.

What is it?

External collaboration is the ability to influence and lead change beyond business boundaries and across disciplines and fields. Collaboration can be between businesses, businesses and governments, businesses and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and multi-actor partnerships among all three. It enables organizations to jointly develop solutions and work together for the health of the whole system.

Why does it matter?

Today’s organizational and societal challenges are too big and complex to be addressed by individuals or organizations working alone. The network of interdependencies creates mutual reliance in which collaboration is necessary for progress. An organization’s significant sustainability impacts are often found up or downstream of their operations, requiring collaborative effort with suppliers or customers to realize solutions. Working across sectors and up and down value chains is becoming a business necessity as sustainability outcomes can only be achieved through collective effort tackling systemic blockages across whole markets and jurisdictions.

A collaboration ethic can generate loyalty and build social capital to enable strong relationships and foster organizational resilience. Companies need to reach out to others to shape the socio-economic context in which they operate and explore new market opportunities. It enables a company to unlock creativity and innovation and to access diverse knowledge, skills, and networks, share risk and pool investment.

In my report I provide a set of illustrative behaviours that demonstrate proficiency at either the foundational or the advanced level of external collaboration. Each competency builds upon and enhances existing leadership competencies and is designed to complement current organizational development processes, rather than replace them.

When thinking about external collaboration, here’s a summary:

  • Builds upon these conventional competencies: Internal collaboration, relationship building and conflict resolution
  • New foundational competencies: Stakeholder issue identification and consultation
  • New advanced competencies: Multi-stakeholder co-created solutions

Up Next

Next in the series we’ll explore Social Innovation as a key leadership competency.

Ready to dive deeper now?

If you’re keen to know more about external collaboration and other characteristics of a leader sustainability competency model, you can read the report here.

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