Why collaboration is now key

The history of the professions is littered with failed attempts to collaborate from strategic partnerships to full on mergers. Despite well-argued business cases from professional institutes that extol the benefits of economies of scale, more often than not this fails to produce the necessary momentum for closer working.  Typically, because of member apathy, belief in the exceptionalism of one side, or both. 

And yet collaboration at the current time could not be more important. A combination of the Covid pandemic and Brexit present significant opportunity and risk not just over the next 12-18 months but in the years ahead, calling for strength of voice and the ability to combine expertise and resource. 

On the one hand, our exit from the EC is placing a premium on the professional services sector as a key component of the Government’s export strategy – the UK as a world leader among knowledge driven economies. On the other hand, the current pandemic is going to have a significant long-term impact on the public finances - meaning those professional bodies with statutory remits are likely to be asked to shoulder some of the burden of Government while institutes generally are likely to have to do more with less. 

In parallel with all of this many of the old orthodoxies around work are currently being challenged and the professions, in aggregate, are likely to find themselves under increasing pressure to deliver in ways that may need to be new or different. To add to the mix, populism as a political force has thrived in part because of its scorn for experts and expertise. There is an urgent need for a counter narrative that the professions should help articulate. 

It is also worth noting that everybody is dealing with a level of uncertainty at the moment that is new and uncomfortable. If we are to find our way out of the woods the ability to collaborate will be critical. 

While competition between professional bodies might mean collaboration is not always the easiest option, this is not something that cannot be overcome with a degree of pragmatism and imagination. 

For all these reasons keeping an open mind about strategic partnerships both within and beyond your sector – and what shape these partnerships might take – is both smart and potentially necessary. To that end you might want to ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What do you need to achieve in the next 3-5 years that could be accomplished more effectively with the support of others? 
  2. Who are the 3 or 4 organisations whose expertise and resource could really help accelerate your strategy? 
  3. What do you bring to the table that might be of value to them? 
  4. On a spectrum from joint working on specific projects to full on merger where could you see the most strategic benefit? 

If you can identify meaningful answers to at least three of these questions now might be the time to start making overtures.  


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