This is the last of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Models.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb
The Keys to a Sustainable Collaboration
In the previous 12 articles, we have covered the many models, areas of opportunity, and different uses for collaboration. In each article, we have been careful to promote the many advantages for collaboration and how it is a critical tool for innovation, without overselling its practicality and while focusing on the importance of doing it right. Although our team at Roman 3 is an authority on collaboration, we are especially passionate about the development of skills and strategies on the people side of these endeavors.
Collaboration is extremely important, but it is not easy or simple in how it needs to be strategized, built, and maintained. So, in our last article of this series, we thought it necessary to highlight, and reinforce, the personal elements that need to exist in order to have a successful and sustainable collaboration. It is fitting that this piece be our finale to this series, as it is our experience that collaboration cannot be sustainable without some L.U.C.K.
Competent and effective leadership is a crucial element in any collaborative effort. We are talking about the kind of leadership that is able to inspire trust in the team, able to take responsibility for any mistakes they have a direct or indirect impact on, the ability to be humble and accountable to those around them, and to be focused on the greater good and not just self-preservation. This type of leadership is important to the organizations involved in the collaboration, to the teams or entity created by the collaboration, and to the stakeholders affected by the efforts of the collaboration. Effective leadership keeps everyone committed to the collaboration. It needs to be willing to invest in the required tools and expertise, ensure effective communication with all stakeholders, and be open to change when required to pivot. This leadership can be provided by a champion for collaboration within the organizations involved, or as we outlined in Article 11, by a Collaboration Commissioner.
There are many factors that need to be understood in a collaboration. First, the partners need to have patience and understanding of the reality of the environment that they are building their collaboration in. They need to understand the difference between contribute and attribute. This means understanding what they will contribute to and what they will play a part in accomplishing. It also means what tasks are attributed to them and therefore what they are responsible for achieving. This is a critical element when you are trying to identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of any collaborative effort. There also needs to be understanding of the perspectives and needs of the partners involved. Being patient and understanding those they are working with creates trust and rapport. Without trust and rapport, the collaboration will often erode from within.
Lastly, but most importantly, there needs to be a dedicated effort to ensure that all the partners are well informed and understand what is going on within the collaborative effort and with each partner. This means being dedicated to having a strong communication strategy and ensuring everyone has realistic expectations and a strong understanding of what is going on.
A collaboration is, in essence, an agreement, often unspoken, although sometimes legally recorded, that commits its members to work together toward a common goal. Typically, a collaboration is started to create something that is inaccessible to an individual, which means that the true focus of the collaboration needs to be on the common goal, and not on the needs of any individual member. This requires a full commitment to the work and the relationships that make up the collaboration. Sometimes, some members of a collaboration are only partially committed, kind of “wait and see” type of approach. This tends to create a dangerous perspective from which to view the collaboration. If you are “waiting to see” if the collaboration will be of value, it is because you already have doubts that it will work. This will very likely create a Confirmation Bias that will force you to look at proving your doubts were correct, instead of looking to prove your doubts were wrong. Naturally, this creates tension within the collaboration when it seems as though members are looking for it to fail, which often forces it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; “I don’t think this effort will do anything, so I won’t help. Oh look, it didn’t do anything. I was right. “
On the other hand, if the members are committed to the common goal and to each other, they are more likely to stay engaged, support each other, and be able to readjust if efforts stall. The partners either need to support the collaborative effort 100% or 0%, either they are all in or they are out. Commitment to the goal and each other is critical in any joint effort.
The last essential element for a collaboration is ensuring you have the required knowledge, expertise, and perspectives at your disposal. Most of the time, a collaborative effort is about filling in a gap or taking on a new endeavor. This means that the partners may not have all of the knowledge required to pull off the collaborative effort to its full potential. Consequently, you may need to go outside of the partnership to get the appropriate knowledge base. This could mean funding studies, hosting focus groups to gain a diversity of perspectives, investigating best practice, or investing in support for implementation. This is not an unknown element of a collaboration, especially when it comes to investing in studies to assess the feasibility of a particular strategy. However, gathering the right knowledge tends to only happen up front, at the beginning of the effort. It is critical to not only invest in the studies and reports at the beginning, but it is even more important to invest in the expertise in implementing the solution throughout the process. Having knowledgeable experts on implementation is how you really move things forward and keep those studies and reports you funded from collecting dust.
The personal elements are really the key to a successful and sustainable collaboration. Ensuring that you have the Leadership, Understanding, Commitment, and Knowledge in your collaboration is really the only way to make it successful. This proves that in order to build a meaningful and sustainable collaboration, you are going to need some L.U.C.K.
Roman 3 is an advising and solutions firm that specializes in inspiring progressive action, creating a culture of innovation, and assisting organizations in implementing transformative change. We help you build capacity, collaborate, be progressive, and grow to your full potential. For more information on our services and support reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org