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Building defence capability: The vital role of collaboration

Building defence capability: Role of collaboration

In an age of increasingly complex challenges and global uncertainty, Australia’s defence force must be ready with a potent and agile capability. In this report, we argue that a principled practice of collaboration grounded in strong leadership, cultural awareness and commercial sophistication can be the foundation.



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Australian Defence Force Collaboration

A new defence relationship

Recent policy announcements imply an enormous change for defence in its structure, culture, practices and its relationship with industry.This represents a commitment to building stronger relationships with industry and driving change in Australia’s innovation practices.

To achieve this, collaboration will be essential.


“To further cement and underscore this policy, it is my intent to reset the partnership between defence and industry by generating new levels of cooperation.”

Kim Gillis, Deputy Secretary, Capability and Sustainment Group, Department of Defence

Making collaboration work

As the scale and complexity of problems increase, collaboration between organisations is increasingly recognised as an effective response. By working in deeper partnership with other organisations can solve problems that alone would be too difficult while also driving innovation, efficiency, growth and shared value.

Effective collaboration, whether between the Department of Defence and industry, between industry players or within Defence itself comes down to attitudes and behaviours. Simply relying on contracts and policy to drive more collaborative relationships will not deliver the best results.

Postive signs

A KPMG survey shows that the majority of organisations in the sector (87 percent) are either implementing or exploring new models to improve collaboration.

Building defence capability collaboration chart 1

Challenges remain

While the appetite for greater collaboration is a positive sign, there are areas including culture and leadership that are barriers to more collaborative business models.

Building defence capability collaboration chart 2

Culture vs. contracts

Culture is often seen as a ‘soft’ attribute with, at best, a loose connection to the performance of an organisation or partnership, while ‘hard’ factors like contracts and regulations are given disproportionate attention. With nearly half of respondents to the survey (48%) citing culture as the single biggest barrier to collaboration – it’s simply too big an issue to ignore.


“Culture, more than anything, makes or breaks a partnership. There has to be trust, respect and a desire to learn and improve.”

Jane Gunn, Partner, People & Change


Collaborating with others requires an ability to understand their cultures and a willingness to adapt working styles accordingly. Effective collaboration also requires a realistic evaluation of the expertise and capacities of your own staff as well as those of your partner. Attitudes that ‘point the finger’ at others will hinder collaboration.

Leadership at all levels

With leadership ranked as the second largest obstacle to effective collaboration, a new model of leadership is needed – one that rewards those who are open, adaptive, communicative, respectful of difference and always ready to learn.


"My aim is to make sure our personnel at all levels are comfortable dealing with industry and show leadership in engaging with them and building mature, equal relationships.”

Air Vice-Marshal Warren McDonald, Deputy Chief of Air Force


Leadership practised in this way is mindful of the interdependence of people in a partnership and wider networks and removes barriers to the flow of information. It encourages shared decision-making and a controlled experimentation with ideas and options with the aim of achieving the best outcome for all parties.


“A strong leader has to be able to accept failure and you let your team understand that failure is not terminal. You’ve got to create an environment that allows people to try things and if they don’t work, come back, revisit, and try again till success.”

Raydon Gates, Former Chief Executive,
Lockheed Martin Australia & New Zealand

Staying outcomes-focused

When dealing with complex pieces of equipment or service agreements it can be easy to lose sight of the goal, the outcome that the end user will depend on. Having mechanisms in place to measure the outcomes of collaboration is essential.

Building defence capability collaboration chart 3

However, the majority of respondents (58%) to the survey believed that their collaborative partner was either very poor, poor or average when it came to their ability to measure the value of outcomes generated from collaboration.


"We’re moving from outsourcing maintenance to outsourcing outcomes - and that leads to far longer commercial relationships and therefore an increased need to partner and collaborate."

Major General Andrew Mathewson
Head of Helicopter Systems Division

A path forward

The importance of collaboration cannot be understated during this time of change. Steps on the path to more effective collaborative business models will include:

  • an ability to understand your own culture and that of your partner
  • all staff equipped with permission to build trust and embrace diversity with their partner organisations
  • where appropriate, using frameworks, standards and models to guide the design of organisational structure and processes, inform goals and governance and set benchmarks for evaluation of continuous improvement
  • leaders demonstrating timely and honest communication, a learning mindset and adaptive behaviours.

The challenges are great, both organisationally, culturally and in the wider policy and strategic context. Only collaboration can give Defence and its partners the resilience and agility to anticipate and respond effectively in this environment.

Read the full report to find out more.

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