As Charles Darwin once said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."
Given the complexity of today’s challenges, we need to collaborate much more effectively.
Collaboration brings new relationships, resources and insights and learning. It cultivates potential for growth and creating the ‘new’. And collaboration, driven by intrinsic values, ultimately accelerates greater positive impact for people and planet.
However, we are not so good at collaborating. Our current culture of ‘separateness’ and competition has trained us to work well as individuals.
So, we need to practice the art of collaboration.
And to do this means that we need to redefine how we ‘partner’ for collaboration. How do we relate to each other? What are our roles? How do we navigate power dynamics and the messiness of complexity? How do we relate to others? How do we make decisions? How do we evolve and learn together?
These are some of the questions that I’ve worked with in my 20 years of developing partnerships for change. And through my practice, I’ve gleaned some 10 key insights for ‘ Collaborative Partnerships: How We Relate For Change’.
It’s a great idea to work through these questions together, try stuff out in action to test and grow alignment, write it down in a partnership framework and then put processes in place to constantly evolve your partnerships.
Purpose is the Northstar from which all decisions are made. And to be aligned on purpose is paramount. What is the collective purpose that you are serving? What is the collective purpose that will keep you motivated over time – especially when things get tough, messy and ambiguous?
Values are the DNA that makes up what we find meaningful. They shape our thoughts and behaviours. Greater alignment around values opens doors for better collective action. What are the partners’ core values that will hold them together, in resonating relationship, over time?
3. Approach to Change
Our understanding, assumptions, openness and approaches for change vary. If they vary too much there will be a constant tension which muddies the water when it comes to developing strategy and delivering implementation. Do you have strong common beliefs around change?
A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term positive impact. It is important that partners have a common understanding and agreement on strategic plans and processes. And ideally have co-shaped it together through understanding ‘the needs in the world’ and ‘what you offer’. What is your collective strategy and do people feel a sense of co-ownership?
5. Roles and Responsibility
Collaboration requires the bringing together of a multitude of skills, experiences and talents to meet your aims. Clarity of roles is essential and enables better delivery, decision-making and dynamism. What roles do you need for your collaborative work, whether it be strategy, delivery or operations, and who is taking responsibility in each role? Does each person have full autonomy and support to fulfill their role?
6. Value Exchange
Practicing collaboration means to practice a new form of value exchange. It means to move from a transactional reality to one that places a greater emphasis on relationships. What is the value that you are bringing to the collaboration? What is the value that the collaboration brings to you? What is the value you are co-creating together? How are you going to share that value?
7. Resources and Assets
Pooling, leveraging and creating collective resources is a great advantage of collaborative partnerships. However with resources come challenges of ownership, power and control. This is often is what drives relationships into breakdown. What are your individual and collective resources – such as financial, human, brand, thought leadership? How are you sharing them? Where are there likely to be power dynamics around resources and how can you address these in advance for the collective good?
Collaboration for change at scale means that you are embracing complexity. This means that you are working in unknown territory and you will not be able to predict or control the future. As much as you’d like to think you can! So there is a chance you may ‘lose’ what is known to you. If and when this happens, what might you do about it? Who is accountable for holding different elements of risk and the risk for the core of the project - is this balanced or imbalanced?
Collaboration is about working together to serve something larger than yourself. This means you need to let go of expectations of ‘self identity’ and start building more emphasis on ‘collective identity’. However given that collaboration is about working at the ‘human level’ everyone needs to be recognized for their unique contributions. What is your process for building the collective identity? And what is your process for recognizing the individual (person or organization)?
10. Learning and Evolving
One of my greatest learnings in change is that you need to put learning at the centre of everything. Learning helps you to reflect, make sense, adapt and take better action. Learning together builds collective intelligence and that leads to better strategies for change – and thus greater impact. How do you communicate and learn with each other? What are the regular processes you need to put into place to deepen and accelerate your learning so you can improve your collaborative efforts?