Collaboration in a culture of autonomy

Collaboration is in the news:

“Everybody wants to collaborate, everybody can see the value in collaboration, but when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty of having to do it, it often means changing what you’re doing in the present to do something different in the future.”

~ R. Richard Ray Jr., provost of Hope College in a recent article in Inside Higher Ed. (“Our Powers Combined.” Carl Straumsheim. Inside Higher Ed. March 19, 2014)

But collaboration is not easy. And most who are attempting what they term collaboration fail to acknowledge the attributes of effective – and sustainable – collaboration. Further, they put their hopes in external influences rather than disciplined internal organizational development.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Collaboration by executive mandate does not work over the long haul. Period.
  • Mere (evangelistic) enthusiasm runs its course and is not sustainable.
  • Temporary infusions of grant funds are not good enough. Trust me.

When executive attention is diverted or the evangelist moves on to the next enthusiastic effort and the grant money runs out – as it will – the work on the “collaboration” will very likely sputter, eventually flame out, leaving the residue of all the good intentions and (sometimes) great ideas that initiated the work in the first place.

But there is hope. There are approaches that can help ensure the success of collaborative efforts. However, they require discipline and an honest appraisal of organizational readiness for work that does not come easily in a culture where the reward structure is founded on individual authority and independent successes.

First, reflect on what collaboration really means. Take the time to understand the difference between networking, coordinating, cooperating and true collaboration. The Collaboration Continuum is a useful tool to see where your approach and your work falls along this trajectory

Take the time to identify in clear terms the shared purpose that the collaborating partners are working towards. Develop a clear Statement of Shared Purpose that clarifies the issue or opportunity at hand. Such a statement should clarify the urgency, time­ sensitivity, and/or financial impact associated with the issue or opportunity. This is a useful tool that will help ensure that all participants, all of the stakeholders, and all of the roles represented really understand the objectives of the collaboration, why the organizations are working towards this goal, how they fit in the effort, and how it will benefit them in their own work.

Collaboration may not be easy but it is possible. If you are clear in your purpose and diligent in your organization, collaboration can help you accomplish things together that you cannot do alone.

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