The hallmark of a successful vendor-client relationship is when the two groups collaborate to the extent that they become one team focused on a solution. I recently attended a conference where the leaders of a session created several of these cross-team collaborations across a group of strangers, offering a lesson for how to quickly build collaborative vendor-client relationships.

At the 2019 AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, I attended a full-day session titled “Scaling AI for Good,” which asked participants to consider how we might increase AI applications and deployments at a rapid to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and thus create massive impact.

The Approach

Trent McConaghy, founder of Ocean Protocol and co-leader of the session, opened the day by focusing participants on one of the main barriers to scale: the gap between “problem owners” (those experiencing problems related to the SDGs) and “problem solvers” (those with AI technology that could solve the problem).

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Trent asked problem owners to write their problem on a poster and directed all participants to form small groups around the problems and begin initial discussion toward a solution. Each group was expected to define a project in the next two days and present it at the closing of the conference.

“Our aim as session leaders was to get the problem owners and problem solvers talking to one another and taking action. There were a lot of smart people in the room with shared aims, and it would be helpful to all if they could engage directly with each other.”

Stickers were made available that read “I have a problem” or “I have a solution.” Participants wore one or more stickers to identify themselves and connect with one another as problem owners, problem solvers, or both.

The Impact

Without looking at the stickers, it was difficult to identify which participants were problems owners and which were problem solvers while listening to their conversations. Participants were collaborating in cooperative ownership of the problems and solutions. Independent of their stickers, all participants were focused on the shared goal of solving the problem and they asked clarifying questions and offered insights.

By placing the problem on the poster, the problem was physically outside of any single participant and made all participants engage as problem owners. By making the objective of defining a project's concept as a shared objective, the session leaders further bridged the gap and transformed all participants into problem solvers as well.

This co-ownership of the problem and solution removed the focus from individuals (self-orientation) and moved the focus out toward the problem and solution. Low self-orientation is one of the key variables for building trust. By co-owning the problem with your customers and inviting them in to brainstorm and co-own solutions, you can both increase trust and ensure more effective solutions.

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