|FIGURE 1: VIZUALIZING THE GOALS
During one of the first team meetings between Dow and ABB, people were asked to draw their vision for the project. Afterwards, they talked about their drawings. The process was crucial to getting all the team the same page while having a little fun along the way.
In subsequent meetings with ABB, we mutually discovered that we had a shared vision of automation—its vision was completely compatible with our ongoing quest to practice our operating discipline. ABB was very open with us on the topic of system strategy and very willing to capture our safety control philosophy and incorporate it into its commercial offering. It also had the dedicated resources for system and technology development that we could not possibly have as manufacturer, as well as centers of excellence for safety, bench strength in systems engineering capability and the willingness to adapt its development program to accommodate our desired capabilities.
The technology vision and the ability to successfully execute and productize combined basic process control and safety in one integrated system, with the logical separation control and safety, was of utmost importance. We did not want another proprietary solution developed exclusively for Dow. We wanted the rest of the industry to have the opportunity to benefit from what we had learned with our unique approach; therefore, we had to have a solution that ultimately would be commercially available in the marketplace.
Beyond the formal development agreement with ABB signed and announced in 2001, we forged a true collaborative relationship that consisted of four key elements: our shared vision; trust in each other; open communication; and perhaps most important after the shared vision, a willingness to confront each other.
To get things started, we laid the foundation for our collaborative relationship in a series of initial team meetings. Dow is accustomed to engaging in joint development relationships when it makes sense to do so. So when the time came to work with ABB, we had some successes on which to build a strong foundation.
First and more important than anything else, in order to proceed with this relationship, we had to have a shared vision. We began by doing some of the things you might expect: We developed guiding principles, defined roles and responsibilities, determined who would do what and how they would be accountable, formed teams, allocated resources and identified the risks of failure and the rewards of success. We set milestones. We understood there would be change, accepted it and set our actions and priorities accordingly.
So those are the things you might have expected us to do, right?
Working With the Unexpected
But what about the unexpected? This is how we made it happen; how we really achieved a true shared vision, one that set our relationship apart. True partnership has its roots in a true shared vision, and we worked for months to be clear about our shared values. We knew we needed to move from a traditional customer/supplier relationship—with limited interaction and major focus on price—to one embracing true collaboration.
So during our first meetings, we went around the room and asked each person to describe his or her vision for the project. But we didn’t just ask people to describe their visions—we asked them to DRAW their vision. After we drew, we talked about our drawings. We gained a lot from this exercise, and it was critical in getting us all on the same page and ensuring that our visions were aligned.
It also allowed us to begin to practice the kind of dialog we needed to have in order to create a balanced relationship involving analysis, feedback, evaluation and problem solving.
In our work on building a shared vision, we also began to address the second element—trust. Building a basis for trust and continuing to work on it is essential. We did this by simply getting to know each other.
Third, we understood the importance of communication. ABB and Dow realized early the need to engage each other regularly, so much so, in fact, that we included a clause in our contract that required regular meetings.
Think about that for a moment—a clause in the contract that forced us to interact. That single action told members of our team that communication is so inherently important that the deal would fall apart if we failed to communicate with one another.
We also had to make sure we were communicating with other stakeholders inside ABB and Dow. We had to work within each of our organizations to maintain alignment and focus on our shared vision.
Now with all this open and honest communication, there were bound to be differences of opinion. We did have some challenges along the way; which brings us to the fourth element—a willingness to confront each other.
FIGURE 2: THE DOW/ABB TEAM
The initial foundation of the Dow/ABB collaborative relationship was a series of team meetings and activities.
In any relationship, confrontation, conflict management and resolution are hard work many people would rather not do; in fact, they may avoid it at all costs. There are two keys to working through conflict; the first is to begin with your own issues. The second key is to embrace the conflict. Not only is conflict inevitable, it is also necessary. It provides the energy that fuels creative solutions—but only if you let it. Unattended, conflict creates a huge drain on energy, and ultimately, sustainability; but, when approached and treated as “learning,” conflict can spark ideas and generate value!