Collaborating with competitors involves yin and yang, two opposing and simultaneously complementary facets of a single phenomenon. This balance can create substantial value, particularly when the collaboration involves common processes that provide no competitive advantage. An example of this is the Exostar consortium, which has brought efficiencies to purchasing through a shared, online environment.
BMW is currently in talks with its competitor, Daimler, to produce and purchase vehicle components including engines. As a story by Edward Taylor in today’s Wall Street Journal points out, Germany’s archrival luxury car makers have determined that collaboration may give them bigger economies of scale to prevent further erosion of margins.
Ford Motor Company has successfully reduced costs by sharing components across its brands. The premise is that there are many commodity parts that have little to do with customer perception of brand value. In Ford’s C-Car shared technologies program, engineers and executives of Mazda (partially owned by Ford), Ford Europe and Volvo collaborated to reduce development costs for specific small car models. An added benefit is that Ford has reduced internal competition among brands and increased the sharing of best practices.
Since BMW and Daimler are smaller than Ford, the German companies have fewer opportunities to achieve economies of scale without collaborating across company lines. The Wall Street Journal quotes a source who says that executives and engineers from both companies “from the top right down to the middle management” are discussing collaboration.
My experience in working with numerous organizations on implementing collaboration is that a bottom/up strategy is just as important as top/down. For BMW or Daimler to collaborate with an arch rival involves a cultural shift, and there will undoubtedly be resistance. Therefore, leaders must engage and involve team members at all levels and corners of the organization in this shift so that both organizations will ultimately embrace the new way of working.