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How to Build Collaborative Advantage

For many years, multinational corporations could compete successfully by exploiting scale and scope economies or by taking advantage of imperfections in the world's goods, labor and capital markets. But these ways of competing are no longer as profitable as they once were. In most industries, multinationals no longer compete primarily with companies whose boundaries are confined to a single nation. Rather, they go head-to- head with a handful of other giants. Against such global competitors, it is hard to sustain an advantage based on traditional economies of scale and scope.

MNCs must seek new sources of competitive advantage. While multinationals in the past realized economies of scope principally by utilizing physical assets and exploiting a companywide brand, the new economies of scope are based on the ability of business units, subsidiaries and functional departments within the company to collaborate successfully by sharing knowledge and jointly developing new products and services.

Collaboration can be an MNC's source of competitive advantage because it does not occur automatically -- far from it. Indeed, several barriers impede collaboration within complex multiunit organizations. And in order to overcome those barriers, companies will have to develop distinct organizing capabilities that cannot be easily imitated. The authors develop a framework that links managerial action, barriers to interunit collaboration and value creation in MNCs to help managers understand how collaborative advantage can work. The framework conceptualizes collaboration as a set of management levers that reduce four specific barriers to collaboration, leading in turn to several types of value creation. They draw on BP's experience to illustrate the effectiveness of a collaborative approach.

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