Collaboration – The Final Frontier?

Author: Russell Haworth
Published: 17th August 2016

One of the more interesting aspects that I found when interviewing family businesses and their advisers, was the seemingly low level of collaboration between professional advisers.

In most cases it simply didn’t happen.

There were some exceptions and some great examples of the power of collaboration, however it seems that collaboration between professional advisers is pretty rare!

This finding was against a backdrop of me meeting and speaking to professional advisers who were more than happy to speak to me. People, like yourself, who gave up your time to help me with a project.

It seems a contradiction. Here I am collaborating with some brilliant professional advisers, some who I had not known or met previously, on a project that I hope will bring great benefit to the family business community, and yet in our day to day practice this collaboration doesn’t seem to be the norm.

Why is this?

From speaking with family businesses and their professional advisers there were some consistent ‘excuses’ used for why there isn’t more collaboration

  • Cost
  • Fear of being undermined
  • Potential conflict on advice
  • It’s easier not to

Let’s look at this one by one and see what can be done to remove these perceived barriers.

  • Cost

From a client’s perspective this is a fairly easy one to understand. The thought of having 4 or 5 separate ‘clocks’ running round a table for the day is not an attractive prospect, especially given our hourly charge out rates.

Is there a solution here? I am sure we would all agree that the client is far more likely to gain a positive outcome if we call work together. Our time is valuable and so I am not suggesting we work for free, but my view in life is ‘doing the right thing is always the right thing’.

When we present our fees to our clients, we do so on a fixed fee basis.

We have analysed the average time required for us to complete each element of what we do and whilst some invariably take longer than anticipated, there are others that don’t so overall we are happy with a fixed fee.

This incorporates time we spend speaking and working with other professionals and removes the uncertainty that an open ended or hourly fee can create. There is an awful lot of discussions with other professional advisers that we simply do ‘gratis’.

It is to our overall benefit that the advice we give complements the advice given by others, this avoids problems in the long run and is something we actively promote.

  • Fear of being undermined

From a professional advisers perspective, the most common barrier was an unwillingness to give up control of a relationship.  There was also perceived fear that another adviser will undermine or ‘expose’ them if their views differ.

This to me is all the more reason to collaborate. Clients don’t ‘belong’ to anybody.

The minimum they should expect is that their professional advisers can work together, without any egos or hidden agenda’s becoming involved.

My experiences of positive collaboration have shown me that by communicating with all of those involved, the implementation of any recommendations is far more coherent and therefore likely to be taken on by the client.

Our services are complimentary and positive collaboration will lead to better outcomes for our clients, so I am not buying this one!

  • Potential Conflict on Advice  

Again, I am not buying this! If there is a conflict or disagreement over the advice given, it is in the clients best interest to discuss this with the advisers concerned.

In my experience this is a perceived ‘threat’ rather than an actual one and if the above concerns over cost can be overcome, there is no excuse for us as professionals to not collaborate more.

Which brings me to the last ‘excuse’…

  • It’s easier not to

This is the easiest one to understand. We are all busy, taking time out of our day to speak to, or meet, with our clients other advisers may not be attractive. Particularly as this may be non-chargeable time. Again resolve this issue of cost and just accept that as part of the job and I think this issue diminishes.

A solution?

Mother Teresa once said (although, not to me personally!)

‘I can do things that you cannot do, you can do things that I cannot do, together we can do great things’

I would love your thoughts here.

As mentioned earlier, I am not suggesting that collaboration doesn’t exist. There were some good examples, however this was more the exception than the rule.

Nonetheless, if you have any tips or examples of great collaboration, I would love to hear them.