Collaboration is a word that can feel over-used at times in corporate spaces. Truly working together, whether it be within a team or as peer companies, is
In a special episode of Any.Talk Anywise chat with Cognesis Contracting, an Australian-based and 100% female-owned organisation who specialise in highly skilled technical contractors. Cognesis and Anywise have worked together across a variety of projects and have built a strong relationship that focuses on collaboration and equality.
We talk about what makes collaboration between SMEs - particularly within the Defence industry - so powerful and how both organisations first began collaborating with one another.
Both Anywise and Cognesis will be present at the Inaugural Australian Sovereign Capability Showcase, Tuesday 29th of November in Parliament House, Canberra.
Listen to the full podcast episode below, or stream it on Apple Music, Spotify or other streaming platforms. Make sure to hit the subscribe button.
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You can read the full transcript below.
Cait: Welcome to another episode of Any Talk. Today is a special podcast where we are discussing collaboration amongst companies and the benefits working together can bring. I'm talking with Steve Kouloumendas and Adam Evans Anywise's General Manager and Managing Director in that order and with special guests, Julie Savage, Managing Director of Cognesis and Contracts Manager, Amanda Cunnington.
Welcome everyone. To get the ball rolling, first off, I wanted to start with, in your words, how do you describe collaboration?
Adam: You know, collaboration's, one of those often used words. Ii8uf0 like to think of it as more than just working together. It's a genuine commitment for parties to explore ideas, challenge opinions, unlock potential that might not otherwise be realised. You know, like any other relationship, a high performing one needs trust, respect, and genuine support to be successful. At Anywise, our collaborations range from very informal to a much more deliberate relationship management arrangement, formal structures and frameworks like the ISO standard 44,00:1. So in summary, I like to think of it as something more than just working together, it's a deliberate commitment to be the best that group of people can be.
Julie: Yes, I would say, we're in line there. I think for us it definitely means being stronger together. As small businesses, as SMEs that we all are, it's been very good for us. We have teaming arrangements that are much more formal and about the pursuit of work in a very formal way, but this collaboration for us has very much been an opportunity to develop deeper relationships most certainly. Adam and I first met ages ago, but we probably never had done much together.
But, through a series of events, when you get to know people that you're aligned to and you can work with, it's just a great source of things for small companies. And I see this in other things as well, because we all need help and we all need support in what can be a fairly isolating game. So, for us, it has meant as well as being outcomes driven it's also meant being closer to an organisation something akin to ours, but very different - we run quite differently - but it's given us an opportunity to see how other people like us would work that you rarely get insight into.
Steve: Collaboration for me is about working together and it's actually at the crux of working together it's all about deep relationships with other people and understanding what everyone is trying to get out of a relationship and having us produce something for the better. We want to leave the world in a better place and every project is all about doing that. The start place and the finish point for every project and collaboration's about working together to achieve those goals and doing that in a way that makes us all happier about the process that we've just gone through.
Amanda: I think the only sort of aspect that I see as a collaboration benefit between Anywise and Cognesis is also from the location aspect. And we're all Australian based, but you guys are more down south around Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, where we're more northern based. And where we do reach out Australia wide it's good to have that collaboration with yourselves being in the know in those particular areas where we may not be on a daily basis and vice versa.
Cait: Julie, you mentioned, well we are all from smaller companies what are the main benefits of smaller companies working together?
Julie: I think I would have to say it's that kind of a problem shared is a problem halved. We are in a unique industry and there are many things that happen that sometimes you're privy to information, sometimes you're not, not that it's not information you can't share, but I have found that to be great benefit.
The other unique things are definitely the geography. It's definitely in this market, I think being able to share resources, particularly where they're so strapped. Just having some comfort from that I think is terrific. We haven't necessarily reached out often, but just having another port of call to say, "Oh, we need some help because we can't find the people when there's an opportunity," is a really great thing for us certainly.
Adam: What's become standard, I guess is the benefit of - Amanda made a great point before around geography - you know, the ability to move in geographic areas or business areas you wouldn't normally move in or that you would like to but you know you need some help. That's been really useful, but for me personally, it's been all of those other benefits that I would never have had the foresight to write down into a relationship management plan. I'm gonna bring these things, you're gonna bring those things, and hopefully we'll make some more things otherwise we'll get divorced and we'll wave goodbye as a company, right?
It's the ability to pick up the phone and call another business owner and say, "I am having trouble with these things." And it could be a business template, it could be a relationship with a bigger company, it could be how to treat a direct competitor... And it's the ability to just call a friendly ear of the same size, in a trusted space, that's not a threat to either party. That's been really, well, for the last few years, it's been crucial to my own mental health. Going through the pandemic, there's someone else going through the same thing. But it's been really powerful for all of those things that you probably wouldn't list on the benefits of collaboration.
Steve: I was gonna jump in and say small businesses power the Australian economy and to collaborate with another small business like Cognesis has been great, because we do learn from each other and the benefits that two small businesses of our size can offer as opposed to a larger organisation, I think very much tell a story of what our collaboration is all about.
We're bringing different skill sets and different core competencies to the market that otherwise would not be realized if it it was a single entity trying to provide the same sort of volume and capacity that we've provided together.
Julie: And I think particularly in Defence now where the value will be on small business because it's just going to be all hands to the pump if it really becomes what we think it might become. So yes, having everyone be a bit stronger, I mean we're lucky we've established this I think for us.
Amanda: I think the other thing too, being small businesses, everybody in each of their positions wears different hats. So where you might go to a big corporation where you have somebody specifically doing particular roles, when you're in a smaller business, we all have to pick up all the different hats, whether it's admin, operations, contracts, finance.
So when you're talking to other small business operators, we're all dealing with similar backgrounds and knowledge, experience. So, it's easier to have that conversation than being pigeon-holed to one specific area of the business, which you tend to be with the bigger corporations. You have to go to the procurement manager, and that's a specific person where you go to the quality manager, that's another person again. Whereas in a small business, it's one person that you need to talk to.
Adam: That's a really interesting point, Amanda. Because we struggle a lot with, I don't know that we struggle, but we talk a lot about building redundancy in the system, right? So that everyone's multi-skilling, everyone's multi trained, and we're highly critical on ourselves that we've got numerous single points of failure.
But picking up on your point, I think that's also the case that in a small business, by necessity, more people know how to do each other's jobs, so we're faster as an ecosystem because we need to be. You know, we can't afford to wait four days for the procurement person to come back from Sydney to sign something.
Cait: That's interesting that you mentioned processes, brings me on to one of my next questions, which is, has it always been a goal for your company to collaborate with others? When you were first beginning, the very early stages of your organisation, was it with the intention that one day you will collaborate with others or...
Julie: I think I came from a totally other industry, not Defence, and so initially it was very much like that. That was more a norm. I'd had a history of working in the States in a different industry, and that's exactly what you did. But coming into Defence is quite different and I think it can be fairly isolating for small business. But I think you've also gotta be at a level of maturity to be able to do it because you sort of have to go through the fire a bit yourself on your own to get all that. And that's why I think everybody doesn't necessarily keep going.
Big companies that come in from other industry can do that readily because they've done it in very competitive industries like mining or something and we're seeing that today, I suppose. I think I have always wanted to do it, but it didn't present itself or I wasn't looking for it enough because you are amongst your competitors. So it is quite a balance and a lot of trust to get to that. And I think Adam and I had known each other from a long time ago, but it was some years before we actually set out to do anything like this. And somewhat accidentally, but somewhat intentionally.
Adam: So when Julie and I met, I was working for a very large offshore internationally owned and controlled Australian company. So there was a trust deficit that I had assumed working for that organisation anyway, because I knew how a large internationally owned and controlled Australian business was going to operate. And Julie was also aware of how a large, at the time, company would operate. So when we started Anywise, we fully expected that it would be an absolute requirement to collaborate at a very transactional level. You know, we needed suppliers, we needed clients, we needed someone to tell us what was going on and how to do things.
So what we decided early on is to try and get very good at. So we wouldn't waste time and effort trying to, you know, "big C" collaborate with companies that had no intention of establishing a long term relationship Which, you know, a long term successful relationship takes effort. So we have put time and effort into trying to, not only collaborate, but be very good at - trying to be very good - at collaborating with a few companies that can also collaborate. Does that make sense? So we went in expecting that we would have to, but wanting to absolutely be deliberate about where those longer term relationships would lead us.
Julie: And I think what happened for us early days is the people that would have wanted to collaborate didn't necessarily really want to collaborate. They either want to, you know, assume what you've got or leverage, your better aspects to support themselves more. And I've been conscious in this relationship, we've probably been the greater beneficiary in some ways. But I'm sure it will mature to something where it is more even in working both ways. And I think with the advent of things moving into more regional areas that would possibly help. As well as once we understand fully what's needed for the next 10 years or whatever.
Cait: How have you enabled your workplace to be one which effectively supports collaboration? For instance, what processes do you have in place? Or is it the particular people you're hiring? Or did it simply happen organically?
Julie: I think for us it's been more organic just because relationships are more my thing, I'd always been in a business development sort of background more than a you know what we do do sort of thing. So I don't think we had any specific goals in mind, but I think my instincts are more what I react from.
And I have learned to stand back a bit more and trial. You know, try things a little. And so as things felt better all the way along, we could do more things. And I think that will increase. That's what I'm expecting or that's what I see for ourselves.
In terms of our people, I think we were just lucky. The people, you know, cause Reilly was a hit and so forth. We strive to have very good people, that's one of our things we strive for. Which is of course hard in today's market, but I think, explaining to them routinely what we're trying to do and what the direction of things might be at a level, a bit above where they, is mostly what we've been able to do. And as that was developing, we kept that dialogue really open, making sure they understood and felt comfortable with anything we were doing.
And even when we say now, if we're working on something together. We work with Steve and things we weren't very particularly successful for you, but I think explaining to the team the longer term approach of things and what could be, was really helpful for them to get behind things in the same way they would anything else we were doing, which is what we want it to be. It's exactly the same, but we want to strive for everything we do in the business together or separately.
Adam: One of the things that have made this collaboration significantly easier has been the quality of people and the quality of candidates and all of the effort that Julie and Amanda have gone into at Cognesis before presenting even a name. You know, in the past we've had names before CVs or discussions, but those names have proven to be exceptional candidates. So I think one of the things that we've come to really value in their relationship is the preparation and the effort before there's even any deal. And I think that's certainly built a stock of trust in that if something were to happen and we needed to take some risk, we're much more likely to take the risk with a company like Cognesis because of the effort they've put into the relationship over the long haul. Which I think speaks to a previous point about that effort that it takes to maintain a long term relationship.
Julie: I think also just being able to get to know you a bit better on a different level. I mean, when we saw you socially and so forth and understand what you're about and what you're trying to do in your business or what your family's even role into your business is, certainly goes a long way towards the visibility, the trust, the everything else. And I felt like at that point it changed to a different level in terms of the willingness to collaborate.
Steve: In particular, there was something that I think both you, Adam and Julie, said about what it takes to be in a good relationship. And listening is one of those. So I think both parties in particular in this relationship have an astute ability to listen to one another and then do things knowing that the other person wilat. So, for example, l value thpresenting candidates, that's an element of listening to what are we actually trying to achieve. Not being afraid to communicate, I think that's also very important. So both parties actively listening and also not being afraid to communicate what they're trying to achieve to one another.
Amanda: The main part too, with all of that communication and interaction, is that at the end of the day, the commodities of both Anywise and Cognesis are dealing with is people. So, if we don't look after the people that are representing our businesses and have them supported from the background too, that makes it very hard.
So when you were saying before how we like to prepare our people, we do that in a way that, number one, they're looked after, protected, but also once we put them forward to you, the name of Cognesis stands with that person. So we need to make sure that they are going to fly the flag for Cognesis and represent Cognesis and do the right thing by our client or our partner at the same time.
So it's very much a people game as well. Making sure that we understand who and what we are dealing.
Adam: Yeah, Amanda, that's such a powerful point, isn't it? We try to do the same thing across our company and in all of the business and personal relationships that we have internal to the company.
We try and encourage people to bring their whole selves into the role and the relationship. So if they do that, then it would be wrong for us to put limits on what they can and can't say with a client, a supplier, a partner. So we try and encourage people that collaboration and talking about the company is okay.
Because, certainly in a couple of my previous roles, talking outside the company about what the company is trying to do was heresy. That would've me flow into Houston with my heels together, explaining myself. So we've deliberately taken a different approach and I feel like the company and the people in it have responded in such a way that we've collectively become more authentic. So we won't wrap the knuckles of a project manager on-site somewhere because they've had the audacity to talk about what Anywise's future plans might be. Or talking to a direct competitor or a collaborator where we think we might need some improvements in the company. Being able to say, "actually we're not very strong in this area, that's not us, but we know some people that are," has become really powerful for us.
Steve: If I could add to that as well, I think it's important. So you're talking about, the origins of, the company as well in terms of collaboration.
When I first joined Anywise, I'd come from working much other larger players and competition was the way many things were achieved. It was all about competition and it was what Adam just described. It was, "what are you doing to gain a competitive advantage?" And every single one, even members of your supply chain, were, were seen as your competition.
It was very much a "take, take, take" culture. Which drives this win mentality of competition. I'm not saying it's wrong, it's proved to be what the economy's run on and competition is great. There's also a concept of collaboration though that fits equally as well and can sometimes beat what competition offers.
Collaboration done right can in many cases out-trump. competition and some of the benefits that it provides. And that was something that was evident to me on day one joining Anywise. It was providing a collaborative ecosystem, delivering that to a client, promoting collaboration within a client, and really showing a new way of doing business.
And it's one of these things that once you see it done right, You want to adopt it because it is better than the previous way of doing business.
Julie: You've adapted well.
Steve: Why thank you. But there's still some of those habits that sneak in.
Julie: Oh well we're all subject to it, because you're protecting something, you know, it's your baby. So it is different, but I think it's time that has enhanced everything and hopefully would continue to, I think, you know, to where you can take it to another level and do stuff together that's really meaningful.
Well, really does have great results, and that I can see that you can't see that often when you start out with things. So I think, you know, the proof's in the pudding. We're all sitting here a while longer and I know more about you guys, you know a bit more about us, and it's good. It's all good. So, I think in an industry where they're touting to do this. I would think we are doing it pretty well. And there's not, even though you have attempts at it with other things, it's not true collaboration, it's that forced thing. But this is quite organic and I think. You know, it has a good future to it for all of us, I hope.
Cait: Well, speaking of the future, you mentioned a little earlier, Julie, the future for the Defence industry and what that looks like. I kinda wanted to know what everyone's thoughts are really on, if more small, medium businesses collaborated, what impact do you think it would have on that industry?
Julie: I think, you know, and I sort of speak with my AIDN hat on a bit here, I suppose you can see that it can have a huge impact really. If the structure for that can become a way of people thinking and doing and I guess that is only true success for people. But we definitely, because of who we are in Australia and how industry is made up, we're going to have to be like that to be more successful and for industry to get delivered what they need.
I think sometimes when the ultimate customer, you know the Commonwealth talks about it, they believe it, but seeing it really in practice at a more grassroots level is perhaps what they don't understand. They're just assuming it happens out there. But, I think there's lots of opportunity for it, certainly.
You know, because we are stronger. We're very much stronger if we're joined together. And small business is phenomenal in what they can output. But say by gathering that together, and certainly for people who are trying to start, who have fabulous ideas, that's who we see in industry coming to us all the time, at an AIDN level, about what can be done or how do they start out and who do they join with and whatever. So everyone's finding their way along with that. But it can't be constructed from the top down. I think it has to come from the bottom up.
Adam: I tend to agree in some of that, Julie. I think we all do it in Australia, businesses gravitate towards other businesses and away from some businesses. So I think it does happen kind of organically. I think there's significant opportunity though for leadership at the national level, not at the policy level, to remove some of the obstructions - be they behaviors or policy that favor those larger, (be they prime, tier one, or in our case, major service providers) that have captured the market and captured the ear so strongly of the federal client that it is counter collaborative.
Some examples, we've done work previously directly to Defence in a professional services role where we've actively secured strong collaborations. We've, created strong collaborations to deliver projects which have subsequently been brushed aside in favor of a different model. In this case, the major service provider model. And when dealing with that client instead of the Commonwealth, it became very much about competition. No, they were all about reducing the rate and getting individuals rather than the collective effort of a group of SMEs working together.
So I think, whilst we do it and we do it - we being the Australian SME base in most industries I'd suggest, I think there's still a significant leadership piece that has been missing and in my experience as a business owner, specifically around providing the space into which SMEs can grow into the M rather than the S, and from the M into a prime. Be that deliberate or be it habit or tradition. I think that's the greatest opportunity at our feet now.
Julie: For sure. Willingness is high, I think, on the part of SMEs, but, getting into that other space is not simple. I think the people at this level think they're doing it, by saying they're doing it, but it's going to be interesting. The next decade is going to be very interesting because I think everyone's needed and everyone's needed to work well together collaboratively, you know, in all those spaces.
Adam: It's a good point about the end customer at the higher levels believing that they're doing it.
There was a paper, the CASG Collaborative Contracting Better Practice Guide released some time ago. And I've gotta say I've read it. It is a fantastic document. It mirrors a lot of the BS 11,000 or ISO 44,00:1 Collaborative contracting principles. It is a fantastic document. And I think there's a great opportunity here, for not just CASG - that's a little bit unfair to name them specifically, but it is their reference document. It's a great opportunity for those that have authored the document to follow it.
Cait: We're coming up very shortly on the 29th of November. Both Anywise, and Cognesis will be at the AIDN Sovereign Showcase and Policy Symposium and we will be a perfect demonstration of collaboration as they'll be sharing a stall together. It'll be great to come and see both there.
Well, thank you all for all of your thoughts on collaboration. It's been fascinating to sit here and learn a little bit more.