HOW TO BUILD COLLABORATION
'IT'S AMAZING HOW MUCH CAN BE DONE WHEN IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO GETS THE CREDIT'.
ATTRIBUTED TO GEORGE C. MARSHAL
THIS PAGE CONTAINS PRINCIPLES THAT WHEN PUT INTO PRACTICE WILL PRODUCE RESULTS. PLEASE CLICK HERE IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE COMMENTS OR ASK QUESTIONS. SOME OF THIS IS REPEATED FOR EMPHASIS.
BEFORE YOU READ THIS PAGE OR ANY OF THE RELATED PAGES, YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND WHY. IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TO THAT PAGE AND READ THE INFORMATION CONTAINED THERE, READ AND MAKE SURE YOU AND OTHERS INVOLVED UNDERSTAND WHY. AND MAKE SURE THERE IS CONSENSUS ON THE WHY BEFORE YOU START WITH THE HOW...AND STAY TRUE TO THE WHY.
PRINCIPLES, PHILOSOPHY, AND PRACTICE
~ Understand and use the important principles of relationships, proximity and space. Spend time with the people with whom you wish to collaborate. If it is a neighborhood coalition, do things together such as BBQs and neighborhood block parties. Provide service together for a neighbor in need. If it is an organization, spend time in close proximity to each other to encourage dialogue. Provide service for a needy person or worthy cause together. Something easy for all to agree on. If it's a family, spend time together, eat together, do things together. You will have greater influence and a closer collaboration with people with whom you have a close relationship. Yes, it is possible to have good relationships and Common Ground with people you disagree. Do not forget the importance of touch. Of course appropriate touch in one relationship is different than appropriate touch in another; but even shaking hands, in many cultures, helps to build trust and mutual understanding.
People will not collaborate well if their primary connection is an electronic device. Trust comes from experience and personal relationships.
START WITH A UNIFYING PURPOSE ... OR WHY
~ While this was discussed on another page. I'll discuss it again briefly here. The purpose may need to be broad enough to bring in enough people with energy, imagination, commitment, resources, and creativity, to generate success. While almost anyone can participate in collaboration, as will be discussed on other pages, it is important to include Opinion Leaders for some types of collaboration. (Another page on Search Conferences will discuss how to identify and invite participation from opinion leaders.) This may be a community council interested in family and children's issues.
~ Sometimes the purpose may also need to be very specific and narrow. When the energy, creativity, and commitment are sufficient, you may want to start with only two or three individuals or a small group of people who have passion for the purpose. For example: drug prevention in your community or neighborhood.
~ This apparent conflict between broad and specific or narrow collaborations can sometimes be resolved by creating an umbrella committee or organization with a more broad purpose and mission and subcommittees with more specific missions or purposes. For example: a community council supporting family and children's issues and a subcommittee dealing specifically with drug prevention and or a committee working on school absentee issues. This may also be a business trying to branch into a new market, become more competitive, or become a safer place to work.
~ Start with the end in mind.
Create, maintain, and update, simple and practical mission and vision statements. These must not just be slogans or posters on the wall. They must be serious and reflected in all the work you do. Develop a strategic plan. This must also be done in true collaboration. Update and adjust as needed, also in true transparent collaboration with the members of the group.
Keep the mission and vision statement in full view of all participants in every meeting. Include them at the top of every agenda. Be an example of living your mission and vision statements.
Stick with it: however, if it doesn't fit any more, change it...in true transparent collaboration with members of the group.
~ Always work for consensus and common ground, unless a different Level of Authority has been clearly communicated in an organization such as a business or agency.
~ Sometimes it can be helpful to create by-laws; however, be careful, it can be easy to get caught in the minutia and lose track of the prize (goal or original purpose).
~ Consider creating and displaying a value statement. What are the unifying values of the group.
SET GOALS AND OBJECTIVES.
GOALS ARE WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. OBJECTIVES ARE HOW YOU ARE GOING TO GET THERE.
~ Goals should be measurable and observable. They should have specific achievable steps (objectives) with built in accountability for accomplishment.
~ Goals should be built upon a consensus and can develop and adapt as the process matures.
~ Some goals should be met quickly and easily, others should stretch you and the organization...while remaining achievable.
~ When you accomplish a goal, or even steps (objectives) acknowledge and celebrate success.
~ Emphasize and assure both process (how it is done) and product (the result). The end does not justify the means.
~ Document baselines (where you are starting) for comparison as you proceed. (We often miss the growth of something or someone when we are directly involved all the time. It's sort of like a child you see every day, you may not notice how much s/he has grown but when the two of you are with another relative or friend who does not see the child as often, they notice how much the child has grown. You document baselines to better recognize growth, or lack of growth.)
~ Evaluate your results with the results of others and compared against your own baseline. Your situation may be different and you may have different results; however, be open to learn from the success and failures of others as well as yourself.
~ Always strive for improvement, evaluate, ask for feedback, be open to learning from even unlikely sources, adjust your course (both process and goals) as needed.
"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." Henry Ford.
~ Radiate and speak optimism...but acknowledge and deal with obstacles.
~ Expect success
~ Expect the best from people you are working with.
You can learn more about setting goals in the article Beating a Food Addiction
"What you are thunders so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say." Emerson
~ Someone needs to be responsible for facilitating, moderating, and managing the meeting and discussion. This responsibility can rotate.
~ Value-based dedicated leadership is essential for anything positive, significant, and lasting.
~ Be supportive, consistent, and dependable.
~ Set high standards of excellence (while allowing for mistakes and imperfection)
~ True collaboration requires shared leadership. Cultivate leadership in others.
~ Leadership must value an inclusive and truly collaborative process.
COORDINATE - ORGANIZE
~ Seating can be very important. Sitting behind tables can have the advantage of giving people a place to write and provide emotional protection. It also creates an atmosphere conducive to getting down to business and working. If possible, tables should be arranged to allow everyone to see each other. Very small groups can often do well sitting on something comfortable such as two or three couches and/or other comfortable chairs, facing each other. Very large groups can sit in a circle or semicircle. These formats will increase communication. Avoid rows of people. This limits interaction and communication.
~ Hold regular, consistent (same place and time) meetings. Keep meeting as brief as possible and make them as informative constructive, and mutually beneficial as possible.
~ Someone needs to take notes from meeting and provide those notes to everyone involved in the collaboration. When there is a discussion, write down what is said. Writing on a board or flip chart where everyone can see and checking in with the person speaking to assure you have captured what they said accurately can be very beneficial.
~ Always have an agenda. In most cases it is better to sent it to everyone in advance. Stick to the schedule. Respect everyone's time.
~ When someone brings something up not on the agenda, write it down where they can see it. Be sure to address it at a later time according to clear procedures decided in advance. For example: somethings may be left for later in the meeting if there is time. Something may be added to an agenda for another day. Some things may be discussed individually. Everything should be handled under one of these categories. In some rare and urgent situations something may need to be addressed immediately. Encouraging advance planning and communication can reduce crisis.
~ Stick to your mission statement. Don't try to become what you are not. Should you decide to change your mission, never do it on the spur of the moment. There should be thorough planning and discussion before changing a mission statement.
~ For community collaboration regularly nominate and vote for officers or set a system for rotation. Even when this is a committee within a single organization this can have value. Develop leadership in others. You want your collaboration to be a collaboration of multipliers, not diminishers.
~ Small subcommittees or groups can often accomplish specific technical work or complete projects more quickly than a larger group, committee, or collaboration. These smaller goups can receive direction or report to the larger group. Remember to keep levels of authority clear.
SHOW RESPECT FOR PEOPLE AND TIME.
~ Ask for help, say please and thank you. Demonstrate common courtesy. Apologize when warranted. (Know when it's warranted, be humble enough to apologize. Sometimes apologizing even when it's not your fault is a statement that you care more about the relationship than your pride or the issue. We live in a litigious society and are often told to never admit a mistake or apologize. You can often move past mistakes or issues very quickly with a sincere apology.)
~ 8:A.M. is often a good time for meeting with individuals from agencies and schools. Lunch can also be a good time. An advantage to a meeting first thing in the morning is people can come straight to the meeting before getting caught up in the day to day crisis at work. Evenings and weekends are usually best for church, family, and general community meetings. I was aware of a collaboration that met at 4:30 P.M. to make it easier for teachers to attend right after school. Meet at a consistent time most conducive to consistent attendance by your target membership.
~ Always start and end on time.
~ Be reliable and consistent.
CONSIDER LOGISTICAL NEEDS OF EVERYONE
~ Consider parking, transportation, acoustics, accessibility, comfort, and child-care when needed.
~ Assure adequate restrooms, water, etc.
~ Concentrate on the areas that you have in common with others who are involved. Search for Common Ground. A lifetime of good may be accomplished in the areas where you agree. Sometimes working together towards positive mutually important goals can be as important or more important than the specific agenda. As you work together and develop relationships you will likely come to a greater unity of purpose.
~ Encourage and help your organization to grow and change as the need arises.
~ When other feel ownership and empowerment in the organization/collaboration, they become more committed, creative, and loyal.
~ For many people the process is as important, and sometimes even more important than the product (results), though neither should be overlooked. Everyone need to be heard. Everyone needs to be valued.
~ Manage/lead the process but don't control it. (Neither the process nor the product belong to any one individual and often do not belong to any one organization or agency.)
~ Allow for conflict and disagreement. Create a healthy atmosphere for disagreement and discussion. When possible, as a group, resolve the conflict and support the solution.
~ Members/participants need to clearly understand and respect each other's values, knowledge, and skills. You can respect where there is disagreement.
~ Information need to be shared as much as possible in order to increase the value of discussion and communication as well as the capacity of all members of the group. This in-turn increased the capacity of the organization/collaboration. Knowledge shared is usually more powerful than knowledge kept. (However, there are times when wisdom is knowing when to keep your mouth shut.)
~ Enthusiastically support and recognize the success, to include small steps of others. As much as possible, let the idea be someone else's idea. If their bandwagon is headed in the general direction of where you want to go, jump in and cheer it on.
~ Use genuine compliments and recognition. At times it is wise to put it in writing and make it public. At times it is wise to make it private. Be specific about the behavior or accomplishment you are acknowledging.
~ When appropriate, and it often is with many collaborations, encourage volunteers.
~ Provide everyone who wants it, something meaningful to do. Remember what is meaningful to you may not be important or meaningful to another. Whenever possible encourage and support others in their interests. Sometimes someone who seems very reluctant to participate or take an assignment, may blossom and be grateful for the opportunity when approached with patience, love, and tact.
~ Learn and practice good critical thinking skills, without being critical.
~ Help people engage in the collaboration or project in areas of their own particular strengths...areas where they are likely to excel...perhaps even in areas where they may not even realize their own strength or areas where they will be challenged or stretched. People tend to blossom when nourished not smothered or controlled. Understand the difference.
~ Encourage/help everyone to find their personal passions and express their own values within the collaboration or organization. Help everyone find and engage in work that is personally motivating to them. You will get more passion in areas important to the collaboration or organization and more genuine interest and engagement from the individual who finds personal passion, meaning, and value in at least part of their work in the group.
~ Allow time before and after meetings for visiting for those who can and would like to do this. This can often be as important or more important than the meeting itself. Some people like to get their ducks in a row or line up what will occur in the meetings, outside the actual meeting. This is cultural for some and as long as there is clear communication and the extra discussions are open to all or transparent, allow these discussions to occur.
~ Allow for time outside the meetings to build relationships.
~ Serving light and healthy snacks can help build relationships, ease conversations, and move the collaboration forward.
~ Occasionally you may want to send a simple greeting card or thank you note to members/participants. This can help build relationships and when meaningful, can make a huge difference. Sometimes a hand written note is greatly appreciated. Sometimes sending a handwritten thank you note to a significant person in the life of your member/participant can also be greatly appreciated. This may be to the person's parent, spouse, significant other, adult child, etc.
~ As much as possible get to know and come to understand the needs, passions, and interests, of all the members of the coalition as well as stake holders or partners outside the coalition.
~ You are more likely to have a positive influence over a friend than an enemy.
~ Emphasize both process and product.
"Real listening shows respect. It creates trust. As we listen, we not only gain understanding, we also create the environment to be understood. And when both people understand both perspectives, instead of being on opposite sides of the table looking across at each other, we find ourselves on the same side looking at solutions together." Stephen R Covey
~ Remember, everyone need to be heard. Being heard does not mean someone always gets everything they want. Being heard means their opinions and needs are both heard and valued.
~ Serving healthy snacks can help some people relax and encourage more open communication.
~ Use common language and avoid acronyms. Avoid words or phrases which may not be understood by others. Sometimes people use complicated language to appear more intelligent and avoid questions. When groups come together from different backgrounds we sometimes forget that others may not understand...and may be embarrassed to ask.
~ Understand that everyone has fears and concerns and part of the purpose of this process it help everyone overcome and move past any fears or concerns that may impact the process or product (goal or desired outcome).
~ Sometimes people don't feel comfortable sharing ideas or asking questions in a group. Take time to solicit opinions of everyone, first in the group, and then individually for anyone reticent to share or ask questions. Be careful not to embarrass anyone. (If you speak to someone individually and they share something you believe needs to be shared with the group, discuss how that will happen with the person you are speaking with and make sure they are comfortable with how it will occur. Perhaps with a little prompt, they may be willing to share their question or comment him or herself.
~ Promote and encourage open dialogue. Never demean someone or their comment or question.
~ Remember, language and communication is more than just the spoken or written word. It is also the way words are spoken, timing, body language, and the way silence is used.
~ Use the media and other communication tools to include social media to communicate with stake holders/partners outside of the collaboration and also members of the collaboration. Sometimes members of the media are great additions to some collaborations/coalitions. When a story is being written or presented on your work together, understand that media will often get it wrong. The closer you are and the better relationship you have with the person or people doing the story, the more feedback you can give to the story, the better chance you will have in their getting the story right. Remember to include other members of your collaboration in any media outreach or involvement.
~ Send letters, e-mails, agendas, notes, flyers, et etc to other members of the coalition/collaboration on a regular basis. Make phone calls and when possible, personal visits to other members of the collaboration/coalition. Build relationships, keep people involved, communicate.
~ Maintain strong and consistent communication with stake holders/partners (and in the case of some internal organizational committees, management).
~ Look for commonalities and common passions. Find out what motivates members of the coalition/collaboration and stake holders/partners. Remember what motivates you may not motivate others.
~ Understanding other's Love Languages can be helpful. (Though there is a cost, The Culture Works has a very nice motivational assessment which can be valuable in some situations.)
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY AND GIVE CREDIT
~ Give credit for success to everyone else involved with that success. Take responsibility for mistakes, and when they occur, failures that you had ANY part in.
~ As a collaboration matures, do everything you can to share responsibility and success with all involved. Do this as quickly as possible.
STICK WITH IT...PERSEVERE..WORK
"The only place you'll find success before work is in the dictionary." Mary B Smith
~ “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do so is increased.” Heber J Grant & Ralph Waldo Emerson
~ Building collaboration requires substantial and sustained effort, often without recognition or initial equal distribution of responsibility.
~ Keep your own passion alive, take care of yourself, practice good stress management.
~ Help others find and harness their own passions. If others are not carrying their own weight, perhaps it is because they have not been heard, their interests or passions are not being taken into consideration, they have not been given or taught the required tools or skills, or they have not been given the opportunity in a genuine and meaningful way. Remember, it can be easy to stifle the creativity and energy of others.
~ Complete your own and encourage the completion of assignments, provide for accountability. Allow others to shine and have success. Do not step in and take over.
LET GO, FORGIVE.
~ Be willing to "let go" and forgive. Look past the shortcomings of others. When you do this, they will be more likely to look past yours. Sometimes you have to hear before you will be heard. (This does not mean you allow yourself or anyone else to be abused.)
~ Everyone must be treated with dignity and respect.
~ Allow for mistakes and even failure. Look for feedback from failure. Find lessons that can be learned so progress can be made.
~ Don't be too worried about perfection. Participation is often more important than perfection.
~ Let go of preconceptions.
~ Even though an organization or collaboration may evolve over time, demonstrate and practice consistence and dependability in values and character.
~ Find ways to create sustainability in programs and message (unless the purpose is short term)
~ Changes in direction should be openly discussed, understood, and to the degree possible, depending upon levels of authority, consensual.
EVALUATE - FEEDBACK
~ Develop ongoing evaluations, feedback, and course correction for continuous quality improvement.
~ When appropriate to the purpose of the committee or collaboration, collect and present data which is accurate, relevant, and easily understood.
~ Find the feedback in failure when it occurs. Use that feedback for course correction.
ELIMINATE (OR AT LEAST DECREASE) FINANCIAL DEPENDENCY
~ Stable resources are important for anything which will endure.
~ In some situations you may want to consider creating an endowment fund.
~ Sometimes and even often, extraordinary results can be accomplished through voluntary efforts and very limited funds.
~ When money is involved, keep good, clear, transparent, financial records.
~ Create sustainability.
~ Look for success
~ Learn to recognize success
~ Celebrate small successes
~ Celebrate big successes
~ Celebrate success proportionally
~ Celebrate publicly and privately as appropriate
~ Acknowledge and reward success (sometimes a reward can be very inexpensive or even have no financial cost)
~ Do not go overboard, as with the Love Languages, find out what people appreciate and make it genuine.
~ Be open to exceptions
~ Recognize and show gratitude for gifts of every kind.
One last piece of information for this page. There are times when a more formal process can be helpful and times when it can be an encumbrance and times in-between when some formality might help. When some or a lot of formality might be helpful and in some situations, you might consider adopting some or all of Robert's Rules of Order.
Underlying these rules, always remember three fundamental principles.
1. Everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect.
2. Everyone needs to be heard.
3. All of the information needs to be clear for everyone.
To make comments or ask questions and discuss, click here.
There is great power in well written goals, objectives, valid and reliable data, support and accountability…for almost any situation.
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