Transforming a strategic partnership from failing to flourishing

Driving deep collaboration between a global pharmaceutical giant and a clinical research organisation


For 18 months, a high profile global study for a critical new product was struggling to meet timelines and essential patient recruitment for the launch was running 60% behind target

  • Only ¼ sites initiated after 19 months
  • Only 7 sites initiated per month (average) 
  • Only 50% of the countries opened and recruitment dominated by 2 countries
  • Plateau stage reached when an upward trajectory was needed 

Being delivered in partnership with a Clinical Research Organisation, the stakes were high for both parties; potentially jeopardising long term strategic ambitions at a senior level. Relationships had broken down within the team and frustration was high, threatening the study at large. Belief in the study was at an all-time low of; “this is impossible to recover”

Both organisations had taken steps to get the study back on track, but because of significant doubt, blame and lack of trust, people on both sides resigned to the project not being delivered.

Breakthroughs needed:

  • To let go of history, seeing their personal responsibility in creating change
  • Refocus the team to work in partnership, being pro-active and managing set-backs effectively
  • To create a study team capable of delivering reliably at a “Breakthrough” pace, including patient recruitment targets.
  • To revive confidence and belief in both organisations, with all key stakeholders.


1. Pre-work dialogue with individual stakeholders involved:

  • Assessing the gravity of people’s concerns and their appetite for a new future of successful partnership and delivery
  • Creating a new mindset about the future ambitions for the study

2. Strategic partnering programme (workshop based)

  • Giving the team tools to partner productively with one another
  • Developing abilities to generate and align behind a commitment to a different future
  • Skills that unlock innovative solutions and ways of working, outside of conventional thinking and acting

3. Coaching of key people in study team between meetings to resolve live setbacks in the day to day study operations.

4. Both companies appointed alliance managers who held them jointly accountable for their commitments with a direct line to senior management.


  • 5-year global study turned around in 5 months  
  • Both organisations challenged existing protocols and created new processes e.g. reduction in the time to complete site contracts by reducing cross-checking at various times amongst legal departments – developing new protocols based on mutual trust and alignment.
  • Ways of working became characterized by trust, empowerment, innovation and joint responsibility – a CRO team member quotes: “These study meetings have completely changed, it’s now a pleasure to attend!”
  • Restored confidence and ambition for long-term strategic partnership.