Hints of Collaborative Success

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

OT1What do you look for up front to suggest that a collaborative endeavor is on the right track?  This is the question that former IISC colleague and current VP of Programs at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Courtney Bourns, and I are charged with answering today.  Our audience and partners in this endeavor are a group of community grantmaking committee members convened by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.  The attendees want to know what to look for in applications and out in the field (‘beyond the grant”) as hints of future success.

This is an intriguing and challenging question, especially given the fact that the signs of success are often in places we do not think to look and of course there are never any guarantees.  I certainly look forward to an engaging conversation with this group, and these are the thoughts I am prepared to share with folk at this point:

  • A shared and compelling goal. A collaborative initiative must have a goal that is compelling and valuable enough that it attracts diverse and key stakeholders to the table for the long haul.  Ideally this should be a goal that no single stakeholder (or “the usual suspects”) could achieve alone.  Furthermore, if there is evidence that this goal was co-generated, so much the better.
  • Relationships, relationship, relationships. Effective and sustainable collaborative efforts pay attention to a multi-dimensional definition of success.  They are focused on a clear result, yes, and also to the relationship, trust, and power building among stakeholders that form the glue and foundation of collaborative work.
  • Diverse and key stakeholders identified and involved. Successful collaboration is built upon strategic involvement of diverse and key stakeholder interests (including those likely to be affected by decisions, people of influence, content experts, “unusual suspects,” implementers, and possible or known blockers).  Indications that a collaborative effort has plans to engage the full spectrum of stakeholders in a system are encouraging.
  • Thoughtful and intentional process design, including decision-making. In our experience collaborative process is almost always a work in progress, and having some sense of the road map up front can inspire confidence in key stakeholders to join, as can remaining flexible to accommodate needs as they arise.  Being strategic about decision-making is critical – how to balance inclusivity with efficiency, not bogging down in perpetual consensus-building for all decisions.  All of this connects to having . . .
  • Clear and appropriate roles for making and carrying out both process and content decisions.  Who will design and tweak the process?  Who will facilitate?  Who will make decisions about and carry out strategies?  Who will weave the network?
  • Multiple ways of connecting and staying in touch.  A rich communications grid is key to keeping people talking and informed, generating new ideas and connections, and not bogging everyone down with in-person or on-line meetings.  This includes use of multiple media, with possibilities for connecting one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many.  Is there a robust communication plan?

I look forward to hearing both readers’ and the Toronto workshop participants’ reactions and additions.

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