The Collaboration Conundrum


I run business growth programs for agencies. 10-100 of a country’s top independent, digital agencies.

There’s always a few naysayers that talk to me ahead of the program. “It’ll never work. We simply don’t share stuff here in London/Manchester/Dublin/Amsterdam/Brussels/Bucharest/Warsaw*” (*delete as necessary). “It’s not the way we do it here. No way.”

I get that people won’t want to share highly confidential information.

I get that people are nervous of showing vulnerability in front of the competition.

I get that people do not wish to disclose all their weaknesses and imminent threats to the future.


My experience is that those who do participate in such programs see a huge net benefit from sharing and collaborating.

I would, however, make a couple of provisos.

I am not a great fan of networking: you know, standing around pretending to make conversation with people who tend to say things like, “That’s enough about me. Now, let’s talk about me.” It can be too unstructured and contains people who aren’t that busy, looking for work.

I am not a great fan of listening to ramblings about “How I made it…”. They tend to lack structure and are more of “That’s enough about me. Now, let’s talk about me.”. A bit like a bad recipe book, the recipe hasn’t been fully road-tested (in different conditions) and they tend to miss out the nitty gritty of how they did it while being prouder of what they did, “We were 10 strong and 18 months later we were 45 and then we sold for £110m two years later”. C’mon, what exactly happened…? What can I learn? What can I take away and apply?

If you put similar businesses in a room (with a proficient industry-savvy facilitator and a few road-tested and researched/proven ideas) then a couple of things happen quite quickly, after the initial strutting and pumping of peacock feathers. Agency owners realise:

We have more in common than they thought.

We share identical challenges.

We are all on entirely different races. Our definitions of success are hugely different – sell for £10m, be the best in the county, become a full-service agency, focus on lead gen, pay for the kid’s education, new skis for the family every year etc., etc.

We can learn from others who have been-there-and-done-it.

We can learn from sharing with others how they have been-there-and-done-it.

We can share cool stuff (websites, apps, systems, processes, books, videos, experiences, ideas, approaches).

One sentence from someone in a similar situation can open your mind to a whole stream of consciousness, a new way of seeing things, a new paradigm.

Arriving at such an event, nervous and hesitant, people leave revitalised and stimulated. Often over-stimulated…

Opportunities for joint ventures or creating joint purchasing or selling arrangements abound. Opportunities to learn from new friends, opportunities to think differently, to think outside your old echo chamber are everywhere.

And what of direct conflicts of interest? What of ending up sitting next to an agency that beat you, by fair means or foul, in a pitch fest? Well, we are all adults and there is plenty of work out there for all of us. And while nature is brutally honest I also think that the less scrupulous will be seen for what they are. And in any case, they rarely hang around long, totally paranoid that people might talk about their less than reasonable approach to doing business.

So, how do you go about it? GYDA Initiative. Start a conversation, join one of our programs or groupsconnect with one of our members. It’s about peer-to-peer learning, community and sharing… let’s help each other and get back to the student mentality instead of being so cut-throat.