This is a question that is on my mind a lot these days as a fellow board member and I prepare for an upcoming conference. One of our tasks is to put together a panel of community innovators representing the civic, business and public service sectors. As we reach out to these organizations to invite them to speak at our conference, I realize that the creation of this panel is, to some extent, a microcosm for collaboration on a larger scale.
Beyond the ability to (physically or virtually) get multiple voices together in the same room, there are other factors to consider for successful cross-sector collaboration. I have outlined some below, but we want your feedback too. Join us at the next UnSectored Talk to share your thoughts.
Does this make sense? Cross-sector collaboration is hard work and should not be entered into lightly, particularly if there is interest in formalizing the relationship. Collaboration works best when there is commitment to a longer-term goal that can’t be achieved independently and the rewards outweigh the risks. Having the will to enter into a collaborative relationship is a great first step, but equally important is having institutional support behind it. This includes having the explicit buy-in of senior leadership and allocating resources that are dedicated to the relationship. Each party involved can also benefit from having an internal champion who can rally support and build momentum to keep the relationship moving forward.
What’s in it for me? The true test of collaboration is the extent to which each party gets its needs met. To stand the test of time, each party should get at least as much out of the relationship as they put into it. Collaborative relationships have a greater chance of success when each party’s contributions are closely aligned with their core competencies, activities and organizational objectives. Additionally, the benefits received from working together should significantly contribute to the achievement of each party’s goals.
Communication is key. Collaborative relationships are inherently complicated because there are multiple parties involved with different agendas, constituencies, operational systems, communication styles and language—particularly a problem when people are coming from sectors with deeply-entrenched jargon. I once worked for one nonprofit that was so enamored with acronyms that it wasn’t uncommon to find several of them in the same sentence. Successful cross-sector collaboration requires mutual trust and the ability to communicate in a way where all parties understand each other.
Leveling the paying field. It’s difficult to talk about cross-sector collaboration without addressing power dynamics. Cross-sector collaboration is most effective when parties enter the relationship voluntarily and from a position of equity. It can be helpful to involve a neutral party that can advocate for the best interests of the overall relationship and ensure fairness.
Like organizing a conference panel with diverse speakers, there is a lot more at play in cross-sector collaboration than getting all of the parties to just show up. Efforts to successfully collaborate are more likely to generate successful results when the time is taken to assess whether it makes sense to work together in the first place, get our own (and others’) needs met, establish open and honest communication, and enter into the relationship on an equal footing.
Do you think these criteria make for successful collaboration? What are your experiences (good or bad) with collaboration? Come join us on Monday, October 22nd at the next UnSectored Talks to share your thoughts. Learn more here.
photo credit: http://thejobcouncil.wordpress.com