Transitioning from being competitors to collaborators – Taamara de Silva


In the wake of the pandemic, many industries are facing reduced demand for their products and services while others – notably in the healthcare and F&B sectors – are adjusting rapidly to expanding demand requirements based on changing consumption patterns.

Widespread disruption in markets and supply chains has seen regulators recognise the benefits of helping companies that are willing to join forces to tackle the crisis. In the process, they’re forging partnerships that may normally violate competition laws and defy traditional means of doing business.

It is undisputed that competition breeds innovation and in turn helps us progress as a species. Yet, the global effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has demonstrated how collaboration became a powerful catalyst.

At the onset, scientists uploaded the virus’ genetic sequence on a public website so that the most brilliant medical minds could begin work on a vaccine.

Then, rather than retreating to silos and cloaking R&D efforts in secrecy, rival pharmaceutical companies united to share resources and expertise on therapies and vaccines, while governments subsidised research to ensure the effective distribution of vaccines to low and middle income countries.

Pooling of resources and capabilities can generate synergistic growth between organisations –   either in terms of developing a current product or service offering, or through the creation of an entirely new venture. Increased competitive power can help firms leapfrog jointly over larger competitors and generate higher ROI that can potentially fuel further expansion into new markets at a relatively low cost.

In recent times, coopetition (simultaneous cooperation and competition), which signifies collaboration among business competitors, is an idea that’s picking up steam.

Competitors tend to face the same markets, and use similar resources and technologies. Typically, they also deal with challenges that are much the same. Therefore, with rising costs of R&D and globalised competition, it often makes sense to collaborate with competitors on product development, innovation and joint manufacturing.

For instance, the success behind Amazon Marketplace can be attributed to a business model that demonstrates coopetition’s efficacy. Amazon.com benefits from a margin of sales from its Marketplace while third party sellers benefit through access to a massive customer base and a popular platform. And recently, Tesla chose an open-source philosophy for its patents by announcing that the company “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

As we move forward, it’s time for each of us to look for new opportunities to collaborate and even embrace radical collaboration when we can. It’s the only way to truly address the growing global challenges we face… and this starts at home as well as in the workplace.

Collaboration can easily be adopted in a workplace setting.

According to a study conducted by Deloitte, businesses can place a strategic focus on collaboration in three ways – viz. culture and governance, workplace design and technology. These overarching levers enable businesses to influence the extent to which effective collaboration occurs in the day-to-day activities of their employees.

Culture and governance explains the structural and cultural features of an organisation, and sets the tone for its collaborative atmosphere. Employees need to have an opportunity to establish collaborative relationships, be encouraged to participate and possess the incentive to achieve a common outcome.

A well designed workspace can help facilitate collaboration by lowering the barriers to employee interaction and providing readily available spaces where it can be fostered amicably.

Technology provides a channel through which employees can communicate and collaborate. It’s also an important overarching lever as it enables and empowers the culture and workspace.

Today, businesses are increasingly recognising the value of open-source and sharing insights. Contributing to open-source tools means putting transparency first while simultaneously fuelling fast-paced innovation and building trust with stakeholders.

However, businesses often jump into relationships without considering their structures and organising principles known as ‘collaborative architecture.’

No one can predict how long COVID-19 will plague the global economy or whether companies will continue to choose collaboration over competition. But it is clear that such decisions may cause damage to their respective markets. So relevant authorities will have to monitor competition and take appropriate measures across the spectrum of related laws.

To overcome this time of crisis therefore, companies must determine and implement strategies in a fair and sustainable form.

The global effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has demonstrated how collaboration became a powerful catalyst