More Hints of Collaborative Success

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment

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Last week, in preparation for a session with Ontario-based community grantmaking board members, I blogged about what to look for in the proposed and early stages of a collaborative change initiative to suggest that it was on the right track.  The ensuing session was incredibly rich, filled with two robust and impressive case studies featuring the YSI Collaborative, which focuses on strengthening youth social infrastructure in the region,

youth success

and an environmental collaborative focused on minimizing corporate polluting in the Hamilton area.  Both presentations and subsequent dialogue in the room were filled with great tips regarding what makes for successful collaboration based on practice.  Here is some of the wisdom that was shared by those in the room:

  • Engage in learning as an early step in collaboration. Take time to learn more about one another, the different drives and approaches around the table.  This can help build trust, clarify and hone shared goals, and sort out assets and roles.
  • Have a plan for building collaborative capacity. Collaboration does not come easily to everyone.  Having some core skills around process design and facilitation,  decision-making, and leadership in a collaborative context can be critical to long-term success.
  • Openly discuss power dynamics. If we don’t name and work with the elephants in the room, well, we know what often happens.
  • Build a culture of experimentation. Part of the reason we collaborate is that we don’t know exactly how to move forward.  We need more minds around the table, and being open to prototyping (test, refine, test, refine) is a way of leveraging the wisdom of the  diversity we bring round the table.
  • Capture all learning and feed it back into the system. YSI in particular has done an incredible job of learning from both successes and failures and uses multiple media (meeting minutes, stories, art work, video) to convey these and make them broadly accessible to a diverse audience.
  • Be willing to let go. As collaborations evolve many things shift, including initial visions, goals, players, and roles.  Being open to this dynamism and going with the energy of the system can help ensure long-term sustainability, so long as the initiative is meant to be.

And surely there is more to say.  What would you add?

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