We understand why alliances are formed. The continuing question is: How can companies best prepare and sustain their alliance teams for success?
One of the biggest challenges in creating successful alliance teams is the ability of brand and senior management from each company to understand and manage the issue of cultural compatibility. "It takes two to tango," says the old adage. But what happens if one partner excels at tap-dancing, while the other prefers a stately waltz? At best, there's the chance for each to learn some new steps; at worst, the partners won't even agree on what tune to play.
Effective teamwork doesn't happen by accident. Ignoring cultural issues overlooks the fact that however strategic and viable the mission at hand, it's up to the people involved in the alliance team, with all their individual talents, skills, foibles, and tendencies, to align and move forward on the shared agenda thrust upon them. The lawyers who wrap up the deals on alliance contracts are understandably focused on the bottom line—specifically, how will this deal enhance the company's financial performance? Meanwhile, the joint team tapped to carry out the deal is subject to a host of pressures, the most fundamental of which is that their ability to get work done together—as a team—will determine their ultimate success.
Once a deal is in place, close and immediate attention to potential cultural issues confronting an alliance team offers a huge jump-start toward success. Too often, however, no attention is paid. The alliance is announced. Individuals from each side are thrown, willingly or otherwise, into the fray. Groups of functional experts from each company are now expected to work in lockstep, as a team—collaborating, communicating, managing conflict, making decisions, effecting strategy—without regard to how such operational procedures are normally conducted within each respective camp. Certain "mechanical" processes, such as forecasting, budgeting, information technology systems, usually have to be put in place right away. Yet the team itself is expected to "bond" and "grow together" without even the corporate equivalent of a ceremonial "Kumbaya" around the campfire to commemorate the union.