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Home   >Collaboration 101

Who Works with External Stakeholders?

February 15, 2024

There’s a perception that only a small number of departments interact with external stakeholders. For example, many people automatically assume that sales teams are the only ones engaging in collaborations with customers and prospects.

While the sales department is often the most visible (and perhaps noisiest), the reality is that nearly every department in an organization engages with external stakeholders. In fact, many of these external collaborations are business-critical matters (i.e., ones that involve money). 

As we’ve covered in previous articles, these external collaborations may be:

  • Strategic: Usually long-term and tied to overarching organizational strategies and objectives 
  • Transactional: Usually short-term and operational 

Strategic or transactional, as previously described key characteristics include:

  1. Strategic Importance: External collaborations are crucial for achieving strategic goals such as innovation and market expansion. 
  2. Mutual Goals: The foundation of external collaborations is the pursuit of shared objectives, whether launching a new product or improving efficiency, emphasizing the importance of common aims.
  3. Self-Interest: Each party has its own goals in a collaboration. Balancing these with mutual objectives requires careful negotiation and flexibility.
  4. Cross-Organizational Trust is a Must: Trust is critical in collaborations, necessitating reliability, transparency, and commitment to mutual success to manage both shared and individual goals.
  5. Formal Lines of Communication and Coordination are Required: Effective collaboration requires established channels for communication and coordination, ensuring alignment and smooth operation.
  6. Agreements Help Protect Everyone: Legal frameworks define roles, responsibilities, and engagement terms, safeguarding all parties' interests and providing structure to the partnership.

Now that we’ve explained what external collaborations are and their key characteristics. Who in your organization works with external stakeholders?  

(Nearly) Everyone Collaborates With External Stakeholders 

Just about every department in your organization routinely engages in transactional or strategic collaborations with external stakeholders on a wide variety of documents. Examples of common business-critical collaborations in various departments include:

Sales/Business Development Professionals

Legal Professionals/In-House Legal Departments

Operations/Procurement Teams 

  • Collaborate with suppliers to onboard vendors and purchase materials, products, and services.
  • Examples: RFx, Onboarding, Negotiations

Finance & Accounting Teams 

Marketing & Communications Teams 

  • Collaborate with customers, prospects, and media to enhance brand awareness and market products.
  • Examples:  Market research, Advertising campaigns, Social media content, Product launches

Human Resources (HR) Departments 

  • Collaborate with external recruitment agencies and educational institutions to manage talent acquisition, compliance, and employee relations.
  • Examples: Job descriptions, Requisitions, Employment contracts

Research and Development (R&D) Teams 

  • Collaborate with academic institutions, technology partners, and customers to innovate and develop new products.
  • Examples: Joint research projects, Product Testing and Feedback, Innovation workshops.

Sometimes, They’re Working With The Same Stakeholders!

It’s worth noting that often, multiple departments within your organization work with the same external stakeholder. 

While there’s nothing wrong with functional silos per se, it can lead to a situation where different groups ask for the same content from the same stakeholder multiple times. This disjointed experience can lead to a perception that your organization is excessively bureaucratic or disorganized. If you look broadly at business literature and business press, you often see complaints from key stakeholders, such as customers, who complain about having to work with multiple, seemingly disconnected departments in the same organization.

How do these teams typically collaborate with external stakeholders?

In many businesses, the individual teams (sales, procurement, finance, legal, etc) select their own set of enterprise applications and collaboration (e.g., file sharing, document collection, document collaboration) tools to streamline their own internal processes. This strong focus on internal collaboration tends to ignore the needs of external stakeholders and external collaboration

The net-net is that most departments default to email for their external collaborations.

Even though there are better tools for external collaboration and there are risks of using email to exchange sensitive business documents, email remains pervasive. The primary reason is that virtually all professionals have and use email, and there’s no risk of adopting a tool that your external stakeholder will be unwilling to use. 

Teams Should Consider an External Collaboration Tool

External collaboration tools, e.g., TakeTurns, hold tremendous value for businesses, and firms should choose tools that support their business-critical external collaborations with the same consideration they give to tools that support their internal systems. Implementing an external collaboration tool is also an opportunity to integrate all the teams in your organization, conducting all your firm’s external collaborations inside one system. 

TakeTurns makes external collaborations structured, secure, and transparent

Here's a rundown of what an ideal external collaboration toolset should include:

  • Common Workspace for Collaboration: This unified platform consolidates all activities, interactions, and documents related to an external stakeholder. The workspace allows both team members and external stakeholders to access, revise, and discuss various documents in a shared environment.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration Capabilities: Considering that external stakeholders and your team are not always in the same geography, and certainly not under the same governance structure, the external collaboration tool must support asynchronous collaboration. This functionality enables team members and external stakeholders to contribute and provide feedback at their convenience while keeping everyone informed of the latest updates and developments.  
  • Versioning, Transparency, and Accountability: A key feature of the workspace is robust version control for all documents. This allows for tracking changes, updates, or revisions, providing transparency by showing who made specific changes and when. It ensures accountability among all parties and facilitates a clear understanding of each document's evolution.
  • Integrated Communication Tools: Beyond document collaboration, the workspace should integrate asynchronous and real-time communication tools for comments, questions, or discussions. One critical requirement is to ensure that all discussions are recorded and accessible for all participants, this helps keep everyone on the same page.
  • Security and Data Protection: Business critical collaborations often include sensitive information, meaning the platform must have strong security measures in place. This includes data encryption, secure access controls, and compliance with data protection regulations, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of all information.
  • Notifications and Automated Reminders: Automated notifications and reminders about document updates, deadlines, or required actions can keep the collaboration process efficient and on schedule.
  • Integration with Key Enterprise Applications: Ideally, the tool will have some method to tie the collaboration with the core applications for the team. This ensures that document-centric processes are tracked as part of the broader sales processes and customer data.

Final Thoughts

While internal collaboration tools have long been prioritized, it's time for businesses to recognize the equal importance of external collaboration tools. Ignoring these tools not only risks inefficient communication and missed opportunities, but also hinders access to critical resources, expertise, and innovation. Remember, your interactions with external stakeholders like clients, partners, and vendors are often business-critical, addressing key needs, fostering innovation, mitigating risk, and enhancing competitiveness.

Don't relegate external collaborations to the antiquated channels of email. Embrace the tremendous value of dedicated external collaboration tools. They enhance communication, improve efficiency, and ensure security and scalability. By investing in and prioritizing these tools, your business can unlock the full potential of its external collaborations, ultimately contributing to greater success.


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