Engage early to better manage internal stakeholders

Tony Llewellyn, collaboration director for ResoLex.

In his latest feature on building successful joint venture teams, Tony Llewellyn looks at some of the key issues to consider when setting out a stakeholder relationship plan.

Any team engaged in the management of major projects must pay attention to the wants and needs of the various stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome. For joint venture (JV) teams, managing stakeholder relationships is a critical activity. As the number of individuals and groups who need to be kept up to speed increases, a complex network of inter-relationships emerge which must be understood, monitored and managed. This article looks at some of the key issues to consider when setting out your stakeholder relationship plan.

Joint ventures are typically created because the project is larger or more complex, than can be managed by a single organisation working alone. The venture is therefore likely to carry a greater level of risk and thus generate a high level of interest from the senior management in each of the firms involved. Big JVs pull in resource from many parts of the businesses and so there is a network of departmental managers who need to be kept ‘on side’.  

Most joint ventures are overseen by some form of governance body comprising senior individuals who are expected to be familiar with the project but are not involved in the day to day activity of the project. These individuals are then answerable to others within their home organisations who do not have any direct involvement with the project and are therefore only concerned with the risks and benefits the project will bring to their division or even the company as a whole.

There is consequently often a disconnection of the project team from the people who may have significant influence on whether the project is seen as a success or failure. The extent to which these resources are made available to the project team will be heavily influenced by the extent to which individuals remote from the project decide to act as supporters or blockers. For the leadership team of a joint venture project team, this presents an additional challenge in that you must not only be able to connect with the key influences in your own organisations but must also somehow manage those relationships in a different organisation.

Dual controls

Major problems can occur for a project team where organisational cultures have a very different approach to control and delegation of decisions. This can be particularly awkward for JVs made up of two or three different nationalities where the need to refer decisions up and down organizational hierarchy are different. Some cultures, such as the UK, Scandinavia and Australia tend to work in fairly flat hierarchies and can cope with the ambiguity of matrix management. Other countries such as France and Germany put a great deal of faith in the use of managerial hierarchies to provide order to decision-making. Each is effective in their own environment but the scope for culture clash is significant if a dual nationality JV does not pay attention at the early stages to each other’s decision-making structures and procedures.  

To steer a joint venture through the choppy waters of corporate politics, the team need to spend time first understanding each other political cultures and then setting out a plan that will ensure that key relationships in each organisation are identified and nurtured. The plan will obviously be specific to the context of joint venture, but every plan should recognise information needs to flow two ways. The team need to assess the particular needs and concerns of each key influencers in the respective organisations and to be able to adapt any outgoing messages accordingly.


Major projects rarely run smoothly form beginning to end. There will inevitably problems and difficulties along the way. For JV teams, maintaining dual sets of internal stakeholders is not a task to be taken lightly. Having a strong supporter base will help the team get through the difficult times and allow the management team to remain focused on the job in hand. 

As outlined above, the key to success is to engage with the issues at the start of the project and invest some time in planning how the relationships are going to be managed. 

Tony Llewellyn is collaboration director for ResoLex, a consultancy specialising in the optimisation of project team performance.