By Sarita Sehgal and Dave Prescott
When working collaboratively, shared strategic objectives and trust are essential. During emergencies, common needs and shared objectives are much clearer, and trust doesn’t need to be built up. These two elements set the base for all sorts of creative use of resources, and opportunities, that can happen much more quickly than usual. This offers interesting lessons for partnering in other contexts.
In Cape Town, a successful local retailer Granadilla has begun delivering food boxes, instead of its usual core offering, which is swimwear. Its core business had dropped away almost completely due to COVID-19. But its business infrastructure was still in place – a commercial website plus delivery capacity – key staff, and a link to local food producers through its sister business Sunn Kombucha.
Granadilla saw that it was able to combine these resources in a creative new way that helped it to maintain its own business viability; assured a route to market for local farms and businesses, and safely provided customers with nutritious food during lockdown. They launched ‘Granadilla eats’ and within 48 hours had started delivering food boxes. In the words of the founders, they ‘turned the business upside down’.
While keeping their own staff employed was the primary consideration at first, their key mission now is to help keep small businesses afloat, to help support the economy and also to enable people to access nutritious food while remaining at home.
This is one small but fascinating example of countless new creative partnerships that are emerging in response to COVID-19. The unifying common threat is forcing multiple creative combinations of resources, which would not otherwise have happened. And it has led to a rapid focus on action, and hugely accelerated decision-making and sign-off processes.
The energy and excitement of the initial meeting of minds, and the feeling of empowerment that comes from taking collaborative action during this unprecedented crisis, will likely sustain partnerships in a short to medium term ‘honeymoon period’. Indeed, the fact that people and organizations across the globe are experiencing the same urgent challenge helps to ensure that all hands are on deck, and collective interest often supersedes the individual. Yet, if collaborative working is to be maintained over time beyond an ‘emergency’ period in which the external threat is so great, partners are willing to assume trust and ignore or quickly work through challenges, the same dynamics and success factors that have always applied to partnerships will also need to be taken into account.
Effective partnering: what’s at the core?
The most effective partnerships – whether in times of crisis, or otherwise – are underpinned by a clear alignment of objectives between the partners, and a high quality, trust-based relationship. In normal times, these elements may take months to identify and build up. But in the current situation we have observed a massive acceleration in the partnership design process, without the usual time to ensure that the alignment and trust is built up. Partners are just getting going, and ‘building the plane while they’re flying it’. The usually distinct phases of partnership design, implementation and evaluation are all happening simultaneously in a far more urgent, iterative approach.
Alignment of objectives
In the current moment there is an urgent and common threat, to which we are all responding. It is clear what needs to be done: take rapid action to protect, support and nourish ourselves in the face of the constraints imposed by the virus. Granadilla and its partner farming organisations recognised a strong alignment between their respective strategic objectives. However this alignment was not previously so evident.
The crisis has suspended business as usual and every organisations’ objectives have widened to include i) maintaining ongoing function and ii) supporting their societies. Organisations are becoming much more creative and imaginative with the resources they have and are able to identify a ‘complementarity’ collaborative advantage that helps them all.
We see in this example (and countless others) a sudden clarification of strategic considerations: what assets does my organisation have that can be brought to bear in the face of this threat? How can they be repurposed? Who can I connect with to help answer these questions?
Granadilla’s owners recognised that they wanted to maintain some viable ongoing functions, and they had a route to market through their internet platform as well as a cold storage they could use from their Kombucha beverage business. Food producers also wanted to maintain their livelihoods and required a route to market. Both wanted to help make a difference during the crisis by supporting small businesses as well as their customers in Cape Town. As the owners of Granadilla explained, “we shared a sense of vulnerability, and came together to create value”.
In an emergency situation, ‘leaps of faith’ may be more likely as partnerships are forged between people and organisations where there has not previously been a relationship. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The unity of global purpose in the current moment seems to be acting as a substitute for trust, and this is likely to be effective in the short term. Over time it will be important to recognise that trusted relationships underpin open and honest communication.
Without trust, it is still possible to partner, but the collaboration is likely to be slower and less effective than would otherwise be the case. Furthermore, those who you trust are also the ones who inspire you most to commit fully to a course of action; to bring your maximum energy, time and resources towards the work that needs to be done. Shared commitment among partners helps to reinforce trust, even when the type and value of resources each brings to the table differ.
Will current partnerships continue?
Experience has shown that the most effective partnerships are those that can adapt to constant shifts in their environment and circumstances, and identify and seize opportunities as they arise. It also provides the opportunity to review and adapt in terms of which partners need to be involved – and as time goes on, opens the path for inclusion and growth.
Granadilla began its partnership with farmers, but has since extended it to a number of small food businesses and soon will be initiating a brand new online shopping platform designed to deliver a range of different food items across Cape Town, in addition to the original fruit and veggie boxes. The growing number of orders ensures that they are making a difference… knowing when the work will be done is another matter!
Many partnerships initiated during COVID-19 will at some point need to evaluate whether there is an interest to continue working together after the crisis and when objectives are no longer force-aligned. Those with trust-based relationships and open communication are in good stead to identify other problems and opportunities perhaps more creatively than previously, seeing underlying alignment of objectives that previously were not obvious.
From these examples, we are seeing the tremendous clarity of focus provided by crisis situations and the ability to act collaboratively that can flow from this. There is much more to learn about how and why at least some organisations are partnering so much more effectively and creatively during crisis, and to apply these lessons to other contexts.
Visit the Granadilla website at: https://granadillaswim.com/rsa_en/groceries & follow them on Instagram @granadilla.eats