The role of leadership in alliances

The effectiveness of leaderships has emerged as a major issue from a recent analysis of the comments and feedback from the hundreds of respondents to surveys that we have conducted on behalf of alliance management and business development teams. So what aspects of leadership have caused respondents the most problems? We have identified four key factors:

  1. The disconnect between leadership and the partner-facing team;
  2. Conflicting leadership styles;
  3. Sometimes weak senior management is seen as the problem; and,
  4. Other times middle management is the problem.

We have collected a few quotes from respondents to illustrate the problems they feel they face when it comes to the role of leadership in collaborations and alliances. The quotes are from actual respondents, anonymized so that any identifying details have been removed.

The disconnect between leadership and the partner-facing team

"Team members seem to struggle to influence leadership."

"Individual people are good, are experts and respectful. Leadership could be surely improved."

"Managing two different sets of senior leadership, with different expectations and different processes, complicates decision-making and adds inefficiencies. Different needs of the partners are not always acknowledged or accommodated."

Conflicting leadership styles

"Our partner’s culture appears to be more top-down driven than ours. This can cause problems because our individuals think they are working out a problem, but the discussion at our partner has to happen with the senior leadership. Meanwhile, our senior leadership is frustrated by their perception that senior leadership shouldn't be 'in the weeds'."

"Our partner has the need to control things, rather than give us some autonomy to operate, for instance the way the regulatory is set up we have to go through our partner for every little item, from site contract negotiations to protocol amendments. Our partner is so afraid that we are going to be the face of the molecule that they slow things down when things could be sped up, instead of trying to leverage the relationships that we have already built."

"There appears to be a constant churn in decisions and there is a pattern. For a particular situation - our team members write emails, call meetings, discuss, bring their management input and reach a decision. There is very active participation from our leadership and is constantly engaged and giving directions. When you would think its all complete, our partners leadership now provides input and we have to go through this all over again...and then, another leader ( leader's leader) steps in and the churn begins again."

"When I started, there was an obvious disconnect between our partners US teams and the strategic leadership in Europe. This led to unnecessary double work on our side. However, this disconnect has disappeared. So we can actually make agreements with our peers in the teams instead of waiting to see if the decision is overturned by the strategic leadership in Europe."

Sometimes weak senior management is seen as the problem

"Senior management - out to lunch - middle management was hamstrung by this. The project leader was excellent but powerless."

"A solid company and innovative. The leadership could be better."

"In dealing with this company one feels comfortable with peer-peer scientific interactions. In most large pharmaceutical companies the level of scientific excellence in leadership positions is much lower."

"A conservative leadership inhibits creative clinical research and developments efforts."

"There is only one individual across the commercial and clinical teams that possesses the necessary background, business skills and flexibility needed for an effective partnership. Unfortunately, that person is not in a leadership role."

"Partnering leadership has largely been a revolving door, with key positions filled by individuals with little or no previous business development or licensing experience. The individuals we have interacted with have demonstrated a serious lack of integrity and consistency on many occasions. There is also a focus on near terms goals and budgets at our partner which compromises the long-term values of the collaboration."

"Strong technical expertise is lacking. Business processes are too regimented and inflexible. There is a lack of clear leadership, lack of line management oversight and mentoring of team members. Slow to accept and consider the opinion of partner."

"In some cases, there is incongruous matching of team leadership skills and credentials."

"The role of some participants in the partnership was not at all clear. Our partner's leadership can be a bit confused."

"Initial senior leadership involved with the deal continue to show full commitment. As other leaders come into the picture, and they place their own people in positions of authority, the commitment to the partnership seems to decrease."

Other times middle management is the problem

"Senior leadership is grounded and realistic about the company’s challenges. Middle management is still stuck in doing things the old way. Primarily, because the company is process driven and innovative people struggle in this environment."

"Strong executive leadership. Mid-level leadership has a fair amount of variability."

"Our collaboration has been characterized by strong leadership on the our partner’s side; however we have been disappointed concerning the skill set of some of the team members charged with generating certain data sets."

"Different layers of leadership have responded differently to this partnership. At the senior level the collaboration, response time, commitment to success have been there since the beginning and through some leadership changes that occurred after the deal was completed. At the manager and supervisor level this has not been the same. Communication is not as effective, support for the partnership has not been as strong and at times our counterparts view us with a certain trepidation as we are seen as a risk to their job security."

"While at the leadership level the right concepts of partnership, innovation, collaboration exist. This did not trickle down far enough within the organization. Even after almost two years of the partnership, we struggle to fundamentally change some of the ways we work together."