It is interesting to watch the rapid increase of contests asking donors to “vote” for one organization over another. Or others, which list 100 wonderful organizations and then allow you to vote for only “your 5 favorites.” So there you are, a friend and donor to 10 of these organizations; yet you can only “vote” for 5.
While, I am a proponent for vigorously adopting and using best organizational practices to support organizations in their quest for quality, fiduciary responsiblity and accountability, I am far less comfortable ranking organizations against each other or asking them to compete in “contests.” It is not that I don’t love contests, I do. I just believe that when we ask organizations whose purpose is not profit but community benefit to compete for popularity in the communities they support, we do them, and, and ultimately ourselves a disservice. If we invested these resources in engaging organizations to work together, think how much more powerful it would be. Now, that would be a contest we would all win.
Perhaps because when a group “wins” they have really accomplished something. To solve the complex and interdependent issues that are plaguing our country now, we need to come together. Unless we can create opportunities for MANY to win, we can never powerfully impact the most critical issues facing our communities. Collaboration lets us create and own OUR collective values and vision for OUR communities. Successful collaborations are harder than successful individual wins, although often more powerful. We can’t focus on quality education for a child without thinking about affordable housing, proper nutrition, health care, and safe communities. Individually organizations can accomplish good things; however collectively organizations can accomplish GREAT things.
Here are five tips for developing great collaborations; these suggestions come the wisdom of brilliant writers and thinkers and from my personal practitioner’s perspective — 20 years on the ground developing, coordinating, staffing, facilitating and engaging in collaborative relationships.
“A solution is the result of many ideas coming together.”
1. Create A Strong Framework — In 1984, Thomas Cummings wrote an article, “Trans-organizational Development” from which Joan M. Roberts masterfully summarizes in her book Alliances, Collaborations, and Partnerships. I have taken her outstanding matrix and crafted six questions EVERY collaboration should ask before formalizing a collaborative relationship:
- What intractable problems are surfacing in our environment that we cannot resolve by ourselves?
- What is our motivation to collaborate? What is in it for us? For our partners? For the community?
- Who cares about this issue and will be willing to join us in our efforts?
- Should a formal collaboration be created? If so, what are its vision, mission and action plans?
- How do we build it? How do we organize this vision and action into structure, timelines and leadership?
- How will we measure our impact in terms of 1) performance outcomes, 2) quality of interaction 3) member satisfaction and 4) organizational participation, commitment and engagement?
2. Progress Is As Important As Outcome – The greatest work in collaboration building is in the creating of strong, dynamic, motivated collaborations. Building the collaboration is 80 percent of the work. If we focus on building relationships, creating shared vision and developing processes for dealing with conflict, the chances for success are greater. When the first 80 percent is successful, the next 20 percent is more strategic, powerful and most likely, stronger than you ever imagined. Spend time on the process. If this is a funder mandated collaboration, talk to the funder about investing in the process driven part of the work. Craft a program outline, highlight the steps you need to take to ensure the collaboration is successful, and create an exact, detailed budget to describe the resources required for success and impact.
“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” — Don Williams Jr.
3. Invest In A Good Facilitator — A good facilitator create opportunities to focus and energize group members, engage them and inspire them to see how the are part of the solution. A good facilitator can help everyone answer the question, “What is in it for me?” What is in it for us? And “What can we accomplish together?” A facilitator helps define group values and rules for engagement, provides a process for exploring and answering key questions from participants: “Why are we here?” “What is the desired outcome?” “How are we going to work together to achieve our goals?” and “How will we get the work done?” A facilitator also captures everyone’s ideas and documents them; creates a space for all voices to be heard; serves as a neutral moderator to support everyone’s engagement in the process, and helps hold people accountable for their commitments.
“When team members feel free and safe to really express opinions, great ideas surface and flourish. ” — Leading Groups to Solutions
4. Invest in Relationships and Building Trust — In Bruce Tuckman’s model of the four stages of group development ( Forming, Norming, Storming, Performing ) he shows that groups are continuously evolving and conflict is part of the process. Embrace conflict, it means you are really moving somewhere. When we avoid the “elephants in the middle of the room” it is prescription for failure and zaps the energy that would otherwise be focused on meaningful engagement. Create group values that embrace honesty, including respect for conflict and respect for confidently. Create processes that promote relationships and trust. Examples include: check-in’s and check-out’s, a review of group values at the beginning each meeting, creation of opportunities at every meeting to share successes, and processes to celebrate conflict. And, most importantly, build trust by communicating, communicating, communicating, and when you think you have communicated enough, communicate some more.
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. – Stephen R. Covey
5. Take Time To Reflect — It’s important to allow every participant to process what mattered most to them during the meeting, planning session or retreat. Reflection is a wonderful learning tool and allows everyone’s voice and ideas to be heard. Make sure to spend a few minutes at the end of the session to ask people to reflect. An easy process for this is to ask a couple of questions and give everyone 5 minutes to write down there thoughts. Some sample questions are, “What was the most important thing you learned today?” “What was your favorite moment of the day?” “What surprised you?” “What is something you are going to do in the next week as a result of our meeting today?” “What is one thing you would recommend for our next meeting?” There are no “right” questions, and these are only examples, just choose 2-3 that resonate with you and try them out. People appreciate being asked what they think and feel. Allow people to take a moment and “enjoy the view.”
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendall Holmes
♥ And now my favorite part of the blog — The THANK YOU’s. First thank YOU for reading this. So many of you have given me great feedback, lots of wisdom and support, and for that I am grateful beyond words. Second thank you is the authors and trainers who writings have helped inspire this blog (a number of you are quoted/mentioned in last couple posts.) And, third, is a huge thank to some of my favorite collaboration partners, mentors and teachers who have taught me so much along the way — HandsOn Network, Community Driven Leadership, and the fantastic team at HOGP — You have shown me that the impossible IS possible.