Greetings from Paris, where my colleague, Rob Sheehan, and I presented a session at the International Executive MBA Conference on what the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School is doing in terms of building stronger student teams.
We previously presented at this same conference on what we have done in our executive coaching program. The conference was organized around sharing best practices with universities around the world — that is, sharing best practices with our competitors. It’s amazing to hear specifics on what schools are doing to help executive MBA students through career services, tailored content or leadership skills training, among other things.
What’s even more remarkable is that people genuinely share details about their programs in an effort to help other schools improve their programs. I heard many directors and deans publicly thank others for ideas they got from a previous conference that they successfully implemented to boost their own programs. As many attendees noted, this is one of the best features of the conference — that people willingly share ideas with each other, despite the fact that the market for students has gotten increasingly competitive.
In another example, BMW and Toyota have collaborated in the area of sharing costs and knowledge for electric car battery research, despite the fact that both compete in the luxury car segment. In fact, they have a history of collaborating with each other. In June 2012, they signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at long-term strategic collaboration in four fields: joint development of a fuel-cell system, joint development of architecture and components for a future sports vehicle, collaboration on powertrain electrification, and joint research and development on lightweight technologies. Further, the leaders of both companies signed a statement to reconfirm their companies’ shared intention to strengthen the long-term, strategic collaboration between them.
Likewise, nonprofit agencies have engaged in more collaborative efforts, despite the fierce competition for funding. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a collaborative research consortium comprised of investigators around the world in order to speed up HIV vaccine development.
There are certainly some tips for ensuring that collaboration among competitors is done well (and legally). Obviously, there are concerns about companies who join together and set prices or engage in other anti-competitive behaviors. Aside from those situations, there may be times when competitors would benefit from working together to create win-win opportunities.
When to collaborate
To create value for both parties: In the example of the executive MBA programs, the school sharing the information gets stronger recognition for having successful practices (which can help with rankings of programs), while the school obtaining the information gains some knowledge about new practices to implement. With BMW and Toyota, they noted that they share the same strategic vision.