On a flight from Montego Bay, Jamaica a couple of weeks ago, I was passing the time by monitoring pilot/control tower communications. United Airlines lets passengers eavesdrop on Channel 9 of the airline’s audio system. As the plane left Jamaican air space, the controller signed off with a customary “Good day.” Shortly thereafter, I heard a female Spanish accent. The plane was entering Cuban air space, and the pilot had established a link with Havana air traffic control. There was constant conversation as the Cuban controller guided the pilot in his ascent. This collaboration continued until the Cuban controller handed off the pilot to controllers in Miami but not before signing off with a friendly “Buenas tardes.”
It makes absolute sense, of course, that U.S. commercial airline pilots collaborate with Cuban air traffic controllers as planes enter and leave Cuban air space. Nevertheless, the U.S. embargo suggests that Cuba is an enemy of the state. So, in effect, the United pilot was collaborating with the “enemy.”
In the business realm, competitors are often considered enemies. Does it make sense to collaborate with competitors? Sometimes. Consider the many joint ventures among competitors and such consortiums as Exostar in the aerospace industry. Exostar lets competitor/partners and suppliers collaborate asynchronously through team rooms and synchronously through web conferencing. It’s a situation in which people may be collaborators in the morning and competitors in the afternoon. The acid test of whether collaborating with competitors makes sense is whether the collaboration creates value for all of the collaborators.