Master the art of collaboration

The right partnership can delight the consumer, energize the team, and deliver big revenue. Here's how to make it work for you

We’re living in an age of collaboration: Apple and Nike, Dove and Dunkin’ Donuts, H&M and, well, pretty much every high-end designer. On a large scale, collaboration is good business—companies stand to gain $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value if they improve their collaboration skills, according to a McKinsey study. And even on a smaller scale, it can have a positive impact. Nearly 70 percent of people who describe themselves as satisfied with their job say they collaborate with people outside of their office (like clients or partners) at least once or twice a week, a WeWork survey found.

Collaboration is at the heart of the partnership between WeWork and American Express, who teamed up to offer new American Express Business Platinum Card holders a one-year membership to WeWork. As a WeWork enterprise member company, American Express recognized that tapping into WeWork’s global platform could help their customers grow and thrive. Since introducing this benefit in February, in fact, “we’ve seen 24,000 workspace bookings from new card members in 400 buildings, in 100 cities, on five continents,” says Marcy Shinder, global head of partnerships at WeWork.

But those aren’t the only signs of success the partnership is hoping to inspire: “When you bring two communities together to collaborate, great things happen,” Shinder says.

Collaboration—and the amazing and often surprising results it can yield—was the theme of the discussion between Shinder and a group of business leaders and WeWork members at a panel held at WeWork’s Chelsea HQ in New York. The panel members included Karen Young, CEO and founder of Oui Shave, a direct-to-consumer women’s shaving gear company and a member at Brooklyn’s WeWork Dumbo Heights; Viraj Puri, cofounder and CEO at Gotham Greens, a pioneering company in urban agriculture; Zanna Roberts Rassi, cofounder at vegan beauty line Milk Makeup; and Josh Dean, CEO of Swell Bottles, a member at WeWork Medius House in London.

After the panel discussion, early WeWork member Drew Barrymore—founder of Flower Films, Flower Beauty, Flower Home, and more—swung by to share the ways her collaborations have helped her businesses grow. “You are nothing until you find a partner, a team, people who will back you and support you,” she said. “Realizing we don’t do anything alone is where our dreams start to soar.”

The speakers offered plenty of advice and hard-won wisdom on how to forge connections, choose the right collaborations, and help your business thrive through partnerships.

Find a collaborator you trust

Finding someone to be in the trenches with you is key. “If you have these people you can text when you wake up and just think, ‘God, I want to talk to you,’” these are the people with whom you can push through the difficult phases, said Barrymore, who called out her producing partner of 20 years, Chris Miller, as a favorite collaborator. “You become each other’s family and it’s this platonic love of your life.”

It’s about that mix of complementary skills and trust, the panelists agreed—and that applies not just to internal business partners, but the companies and brands you align yourself with. “What I’ve had to learn as a solo entrepreneur is that it’s all about telling your story and connecting with people who would help you bring that story to life,” said Young, who credits her manufacturing partner for helping bring her initial razor to fruition. “Getting to the right person who will think differently with you to literally change the way an industry is perceived—that’s when we found our most powerful collaborator.”

Dream big—and don’t hold back

Taking risks to surprise and delight your audience can pay off big time in terms of exposure and market reach. “There’s a lot of noise, but you want to do something that is memorable and can leave a lasting impression on both groups of customers’ lives,” said Dean, whose company’s partnerships include Swarovski, Starbucks, and Marriott.

Another risk worth taking: exposing your ideas to other people, said Puri. In corporate culture, sharing info that could give your competitors an edge is frowned upon. But as an entrepreneur, being frank about your goals can open up a whole new world to you. “We felt like our solution could inspire others using sustainable techniques,” he said of Gotham Greens. “Clearly, there are trade secrets and proprietary partnerships we covet, but we truly believe there’s a lot of white space, and that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Keep an eye on authenticity

With collaboration practically baked into the DNA of modern marketing, authenticity is crucial to a successful partnership. “When there’s a clear, authentic relationship between your brand and product story and someone else’s, you’re creating a mutually beneficial outcome,” Dean said. “It can be magic; but an inauthentic collaboration can be very damaging to your brand.”

That may mean saying no to certain offers, said Rassi, whose brand Milk Makeup has collaborated with everything from Sephora to the Wu-Tang Clan. “We get offered a lot, and you have to be able to examine the brand values of whoever you’re going to collaborate with and [sometimes] say no.”

Be a generous partner

That’s the golden rule of a successful partnership, said Puri. “A truly collaborative partnership is mutually beneficial,” he said. “Don’t try to get more out of the relationship than the other partner.”

A collaboration is an exchange, and you have to hold up your end of the bargain, said Barrymore. “There are simple rules: Someone invests in you and you pay them back,” she said. “I want to be someone that people can count on, someone that has accountability—and that’s synonymous with business.”

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