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When Two Sides Go to War

When Two Sides Go to War

When the business model between outsourcer and client is ill-considered, or the two parties are marching to the beat of different missions and strategies, skirmishes can degenerate into full-on war.

How to renegotiate troubled relationships and find peace and harmony (at least until the next time).

When the business model between outsourcer and client is ill-considered, or the two parties are marching to the beat of different missions and strategies, skirmishes can degenerate into full-on war. David Eaves, an associate with Boston-based Vantage Partners, has donned helmet and flak jacket to intercede between parties so hostile to each other that they would not even talk except to hurl recriminations and insults.

That is what happens when organizations ignore all the signs that an alliance is broken: the angry exchanges, the growing cancer of the "us" and "them" mentality, the team members who deliberately withhold critical information, the high attrition rates and ultimately, the abject failure to reach target milestones and timelines.

It is all too easy for companies caught up in fractured or underperforming alliances to blind themselves to the fact that the relationship has turned sour. Yet until both sides are prepared to face up squarely to the fact that the alliance is broken and take steps to mend it, Eaves says, they can never hope to achieve adequate returns on their substantial investment in an alliance.

"A great deal of time and energy are invested in understanding why alliances fail, but it is the alliances that drift that are an executive's real nightmare," he writes in his paper The Relationship Relaunch: How to Fix a Broken Alliance, prepared in concert with co-partners Jeff Weiss and Laura Judy Visioni. "Like characters in a horror movie, broken alliances linger like zombies - sometimes for years - generating little or no revenue, draining capital and productivity, damaging morale, increasing employee attrition, and unnecessarily consuming the precious focus and energy of senior management."

The Vantage Partners answer is a methodology, relationship relaunch, that it has used to help numbers of organizations to improve significantly their business alliance. Organizations that can identify broken alliances, Eaves says, then repair or terminate them effectively and amicably, can improve their ROI and develop a reputation for being a "partner of choice", thereby improving the likelihood other organizations will seek them out when considering new joint ventures.

The relationship relaunch methodology grew from the Harvard Negotiation Project - on which all three of the paper's authors worked - created in 1979 to pioneer the study, teaching and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution. The Harvard Negotiation Project's mission is to improve the theory, teaching and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution to help people deal more constructively with conflicts.

A relationship relaunch provides a framework for the critical tasks needed and decisions necessary to address a broken alliance, helping partners to diagnose why the alliance has broken down, explore and understand the existing obstacles, conflicts or tensions, and make specific plans to overcome these problems. "While not a panacea, it is an important first step. It can improve the working relationship," Eaves says.

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