Four Keys to Collaboration Success
As a consultant I'm often asked, “Why do some collaborations succeed and others fail?” As you can imagine, there are many factors involved (see Twenty Factors Influencing Collaboration Success below). However, having consulted with more than 50 collaborations in the past ten years, I've identified four keys that—while not a guarantee to success—are essential to a well-functioning collaboration. Those keys are:
Key #1: Clarify the Purpose
lower intensity higher intensity
|Shorter-term, informal relationships
Shared information only
Separate goals, resources, and structures
|Longer-term effort around a project or task
Some planning and division of roles
Some shared resources, rewards, and risks
More durable and pervasive relationships
New structure with commitment to common goals
All partners contribute resources and share rewards and leadership
True collaboration requires a commitment to shared goals, a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility, mutual authority and accountability for success, and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards. Here's a definition.
Collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals.
However you decide to work together, it's important that everyone understands and agrees to the purpose of the collaboration, the degree of commitment required, and the expectations of partners involved in the effort.
There's another important reason for being clear on your purpose. If you do collaborate, you're going to need help from funders and the community. That means you'll need to grab their attention with a compelling, distinctive message. I tell my clients that they should be able to relay their message in the time it takes to ride an elevator. The message should describe what the collaboration is about, why it's important, and why it should be supported. Sometimes even the name can capture the message. For example, a collaborative working to increase affordable housing called itself “2000 x 2000.” This captured the heart of their goal, which was to develop 2,000 units of quality, affordable housing by the year 2000.
Here are the three main types of collaboration and their levels of intensity:
Degree of Intensity
Centralized purchasing, benefits programs
Shared staff (proposal writer, bookkeeper)
|New funding streams
Packaged funding requests
Advocacy on policy issues e.g., welfare reform, community violence
Region-wide service delivery system
Niche specialties shared through contracts
New program development
Coordinated intake and referral
Difficulty, Time, Impact
Significant increases in efficiency, reach, and impact on mission can be gained with each type of collaborative. But the difficulty, time required, and potential impact on the people you serve increases as you move to the right side of the chart.
When choosing partners consider these questions:
As a rule, work with as few people as necessary to get the job done. The more people involved, the greater the number of communications; the greater the intensity; and the greater the difficulty of learning about each other, balancing power, and coordinating your work.
A charter, also known as an operating agreement or memorandum of understanding, lays out the rules that govern the collaboration. The charter should include the collaboration's mission and purpose; values and assumptions; vision, timelines and milestones; members and membership policies; roles and contributions, policies (competition, conflicts of interest, financial relationships); and norms (participation, decision-making, communication, conflict, meetings). It's especially important to decide what the agreements are for leadership and decision-making.
(From Collaboration: What Makes It Work, by Paul Mattessich, PhD, Marta Murray-Close, BA, & Barbara Monsey, MPH.)
Following are twenty factors that research has identified as influencing collaboration success. The factors are grouped into six categories:
To ensure the effectiveness of your collaborative effort, pay attention to all the factors listed.
A. History of collaboration or cooperation in the community
B. Collaborative group seen as a legitimate leader in the community
C. Favorable political and social climate
A. Mutual respect, understanding, and trust
B. Appropriate cross section of members
C. Members see collaboration as in their self-interest
D. Ability to compromise
A. Members share a stake in both process and outcome
B. Multiple layers of participation
D. Development of clear roles and policy guidelines
F. Appropriate pace of development
A. Open and frequent communication
B. Established informal relationships and communication links
A. Concrete, attainable goals and objectives
B. Shared vision
C. Unique purpose
A. Sufficient funds, staff, materials, and time
B. Skilled leadership
Collaboration Resource List
A free list of resources dealing with the topic of collaboration. This list is useful to collaborations and collaboration consultants.
Collaboration Factors Inventory
Use this online tool to help you assess your collaboration’s strengths and weaknesses.
Tips for Managing Conflict in Collaborations
Typical sources of conflict in collaborations and ways to resolve them.
For more information, please contact Sandy Jacobsen at 651.556.4510 or email her at sjacobsen@FieldstoneAlliance.org to discuss your interests and how we might work together for strong nonprofits and communities.
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