By Stuart Maister, Joint MD, Mutual Value

If you’ve ever done personal development of any type you know it all starts with you. If you want others to behave better you need to behave better; if you want others to be nice then guess what you need to do first?

 If you want to be trusted you need to extend trust. And – here’s the key point – the same goes for your company. 

 It starts with you as the partner, leader, the sales head or the person that is responsible for delivery. But, just as with an individual, the behaviour of a body corporate impacts the way others interact with it. If you want to build high trust relationships with key clients or suppliers it begins within. 

 Every large professional firm says they want to do this because these type of commercial relationships are more valuable, more profitable, you probably do your best work and they are more enjoyable. Working as a partner is preferable to supplying a transactional service.

 At Mutual Value we work with clients to help them develop the mindsets and skillsets to build these relationships. However, what’s clear to us is how much harder it is to achieve this externally – with clients or suppliers – if there is little trust and collaboration internally

 The challenge: internal transactions

 Here’s the truth: in many firms the different teams and departments interact in as transactional a way as they do with external parties. In many cases the internal relationships are less collaborative than those externally. Does this in any way sound familiar?

 There are good reasons for this. Often there are multiple P&Ls and so each business unit or partner is focused on their own targets with little incentive to bring in others. Teams may have very transactional views of other departments – ‘we’ll bring in marketing when we have a bid’; or ‘I’ll reach out if my client asks me about your area of expertise.’ Plus of course there will be career, ego or other political dimensions to the internal dynamic. 

 That’s why we argue for a switch in thinking. Instead of considering ‘our company’ in relation to all others, we propose that leaders turn to ecosystem thinking as the foundation for highly collaborative relationships. In this model, the clusters of skills and capabilities within an organisation are seen as collaborating and co-creating value in a dynamic way, not as some set of units in a hierarchy. 

(Have a look at our ‘slicing through the cake’ model here.)

 It’s about mindset

 This is not about abandoning the organisational structure, but about a mindset that encourages innovation, agility and pace. It depends on a strong sense of common purpose and set of behaviours, captured in the values of the organisation truly lived. Of course, this is critically supported by the leadership behaviours and the incentive structure.

 If the organisation can behave in a collaborative and trusted way with itself, then it is in a much better position to do so with its clients and external partners. We know from our own research that clients choose professionals who turn up as a team and demonstrate a good cultural fit. This means that everyone who turns up behaves in a consistent way and demonstrates real synergy. It also means your firm has a more secure and growing account as the client gets to know more about the other things you can do for them – because everyone involved has a common purpose. 

 Ecosystems depend on co-operation, openness, honesty and aligned ambitions. A firm that has a powerful and dynamic internal ecosystem is in a position to build far stronger relationships externally. This can lead to them developing their own ecosystem or becoming an intrinsic part of one led by a key client. This is a key business dynamic in a fast -changing world where innovation and agility are critical capabilities. 

 The key: it starts with you. 

 Mutual Value is delighted to have partnered with the authors of ‘Ecosystem Edge’ to offer consultancy, coaching and training in a programme for those wanting to develop internal and external ecosystems. For more information click here to view the Ecosystem page on our website, which contains further thinking on the subject.