Collaboration creates synergy in the supply chain

UM huddle

Supplier collaboration is like synergy-the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

In sports, working together for a common goal to win a championship is a given. Those teams that do it the best separate themselves from the competition creating lasting legacies that live forever. The winning spirit (a collaborative process) begins when the coaching staff lays the foundation for the season long before the season even begins.

Developing collaboration in the supplier base has a lot of similarities to winning championships.  Collaboration and winning teams share common characteristics such as a team vision, a foundation built on trust, structure and accountability to each other. All of these elements that create winning teams also help drive a shared collaborative team environment.  Creating collaboration in the supply chain, much like winning championships, will separate you from the competition by providing opportunities not afforded to those that work alone. Expanded market penetration, product innovation, cost reductions and shorter lead times are all possible when using a collaborative approach to engaging the marketplace.

So how do you translate winning on the field to collaborative winning in your supply chain?  Follow these four elements and you will be on your way:

1. Invite the supplier to participate.

Sounds simple, but if there has been a long standing relationship or the players have changed over time, it is time to reset. This is especially true if there has been friction in the past.  Besides who doesn’t like a warm invite?  It does not matter if it is about business, dinner or just a drink with friends.  No one wants to feel like they are crashing the party. A warm invite is usually well received and if done in the proper context can help to set the table for a collaborative relationship

2. Establish a foundation

Kate Vitasek (Founder of Vested Outsourcing and world renowned supply chain author) says it best, “trust, transparency and compatibility” help to define the basic foundation of any business relationship.  Once these three key elements are established, the creativity is allowed to flourish instead of being stifled.  It is in this freedom where ideas are developed to create unique solutions throughout the supply chain. The entire supply chain becomes open to discussion so opportunities may be found in planning models, product innovation, pricing, packaging, logistics, capacity, distribution or simply better information.  No one wants to feel boxed into a corner and the right foundation allows people the freedom to engage in new ideas.

3. Develop a structure

Just like a building, once the foundation is set, the structure building can begin.  A common vision helps to frame the structure, but a forum of communication needs to be developed that helps support an environment of ideas and provide feedback throughout the process for what is working and not working.  These communication tools are also key elements in establishing a method for accountability to keep all parties on track.

4. Create incentives

Setting the foundation, creating strong communications and accountability are great, but without the proper incentive, sustainability is difficult. Only through fair incentive policies will all parties feel justly compensated for their involvement. Incentives are not always restricted to just direct compensation.  Incentives such as exclusive rights, product innovations, inventory solutions, additional capacity or shorter lead times may be creative methods that can provide a winning edge over the competition.  What is it worth going to market knowing you can be first with product innovations or shorter lead times?

Champions in sports stand out above the rest of the crowd.  Winning in business involves creating a profitable and sustainable game plan. Collaboration in your supply chain can be a vital key to creating that game plan.  Isn’t it time to make your entire supply chain greater than just the sum of its parts?

Question: what are some of the most unique collaborative projects you have worked on?

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