5 Considerations for Making Collaboration Work

I have previously written about collaboration and its importance in another post. I want to take it a step further in this blog, providing you five considerations for making collaboration work in your community or organization – whether that collaboration be for the purposes of planning or implementation.

1. Agree on How You Will Communicate With Each Other

Your collaboration should be about participants focusing on ideas, not chasing each other down, having “offline” conversations, contributing to the rumor mill, or engaging in the politics of difference through talk in order to gain power. Determine in advance who will talk to whom, when and the frequency for doing so. Make sure people know the process for how this will occur, and that communication outside of this process will be seen as a violation of the collaboration.

I know this may sound rigid. But the truth is, many great ideas, plans, and programs go completely sideways solely because of communication errors.

2. Ensure Creative Conflict

Creative conflict is both powerful and productive. Many successful collaborations have also found this to be necessary. Having creative conflict doesn’t mean collaborators badger each other or act disrespectfully. All it really means is that there will be stimulating, fun and innovative ways to ensure people move beyond quiet politeness or other forms of holding back from contributing. When people are “all in” there is a better change that the collaboration will reap better rewards because each person had to put their best ideas forward…being both vulnerable and potentially rewarded for doing so.

3. Be Deliberate and Thoughtful in Figuring Out With Whom You are Collaborating

People collaborating should have a purpose for doing so. It isn’t about having a passing interest or simply volunteering. Some planning and implementation fails because great efforts went into getting “inclusive” participation rather than focusing on who has a vested interest as well as the skills, experience, motivation and compatibility with others that they will be collaborating with. Collaboration isn’t for everyone. Not all people/organizations are willing or able to blend their perspectives with others or share success/failure from what comes out of the collaboration. Furthermore, people that feel they have to be there rather than wanting to be there will not be as fully invested as it may be hoped. Finally, position power (an Executive) may have been the traditional “go to” person for the collaboration, but ultimately the level of experience or type of thinking you really need is not at the most senior level of the organization you are hoping to collaborate with. Look at the qualities of the collaborator, not just the job title.

4. Have a Defined Process

Collaboration requires structure. Random brainstorms don’t work long term. Without attention to participation methods there is a greater likelihood of a smaller number of the group dominating the conversation or idea generation – or both. A range of facilitation techniques are necessary to be effective when working with diverse collaborators as they rarely get fully involved or invested in just one approach. For your collaboration to succeed you need to ensure that the people (and whether or not delegates are allowed), processes and resources are well-defined in advance so that people can focus on actually collaborating, not managing or responding to logistics.

5. Make Certain There is Accountability

Collaborations should try to focus on equitable, reliable participation from the collaborators. Deadlines are a must – and deadlines only really work if there is some type of consequence to meeting the deadline. Working respectfully means there has to be an onus to complete tasks or activities that each collaborator (or group of collaborators) agrees to accomplish. Trust and morale goes out the window if accountability is violated. Double standards, delegating by omission (not completing tasks and watching others swoop in before deadlines to ensure it gets done), ungrounded postponements, etc. all kill effective collaborations.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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