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The Key to Good Collaboration, by Mark Gough

February 25, 2021 |

This article was written by Mark Gough, CEO of the Capitals Coalition.

We often hear that “the sum of the whole is greater than the parts”, and that, “together you can go further than you can go alone.

So why then, when almost every organization claims that “collaboration is key”, do we often feel that it is an annoyance, a necessary evil and that it slows down progress?

Well, it can, and it often does – but that is bad collaboration.

Good Collaboration

Good collaboration is very different. It can be hard to do but it is possible and wholly worthwhile. Here are some of my thoughts on what makes good collaboration based upon our experience at the Coalition and summarized from a chapter I contributed to a new book ‘Generation Impact: International Perspectives on Impact Accounting’ by Adam Richards and Jeremy Nicholls:

  1. Break bread together – Getting to know your collaborators at a personal as well as a professional level goes a long way to build social capital, namely trust and reciprocity. You’ll find that investing in social capital pays back, especially when times get hard.
  2. Have a clear purpose – New initiatives often start with a common function in mind, when what really brings people together is a common purpose – the why behind your work. This purpose will unite your collaborators and streamline efforts, making it that much easier to achieve your shared goal.
  3. Establish relevant governance – After agreeing on a common purpose, then you need to define the governance structure and plan how you will collaboratively work through challenges when they occur. Strong, relevant governance is key for everyone to understand what’s expected and from who.
  4. Lead and listen – There is a belief that collaboration is about everyone having an equal say, but this is not the case. Instead, everyone should be heard. Every person who enters a collaboration brings something new and valuable to the table. Good collaboration provides space for everyone to express their thoughts, add to the conversation, build shared ideas and be heard. Good collaboration requires someone to lead the conversation.
  5. Let go of your beliefs – We might all think that we know what the answer is, and we often all think that we need to convince people that our answer is the right one. This very rarely works, however. It is important to be able to let go of your beliefs, listen, and be open to alternative answers.
  6. Challenge yourself – Some people will disagree with you – sometimes because they don’t understand you and sometimes because they hold strong beliefs about the way the world works. If they don’t agree with you, listen to them rather than talk at them. Keeping people at a distance only creates more fear and loathing. Use this experience to challenge your own worldview and continually improve.
  7. Engage with people, not organizations – If people come to a meeting representing an organization, they can come with existing red lines and certain beliefs of what the organization would (often mistakenly) want. They have defined opinions and are not open to challenge. But if they come as individuals, they’re often more likely to once again find that common ground for good collaboration.
  8. Be open and inclusive – There is a perception that collaboration is slow and unwieldy, but speed is relative to what you want to achieve. If you want to transform a system, then everyone has to be involved from the beginning. Hosting an inclusive space is vital to achieving this.
  9. Communicate often – Good collaboration can, and often does, get stuck. No matter how much a community comes together at the beginning of a venture, there will always be splinter groups that break away over time. Collaboration, therefore, is in a constant state of flux. To keep the community together, you need to be continually communicating –talking and listening – to each other. Communication is not a scheduled activity, rather, it has to be alive and relevant to the context. Late night calls before a decision is made the following day are a regular occurrence with our team at the Coalition and in many other good collaborations.
  10. Know when it is over, then start again – One thing that nature clearly shows us is that everything is circular. The water cycle goes from rain to streams, to rivers, to the sea, to evapotranspiration back into the clouds, before it rains again. No one wants to let ideas go when we have been there at their inception. But remember that establishment, although an important part of a transition, is not the end – it is the beginning of the next idea.

Bad collaboration is easy but good collaboration does not need to be hard. You can achieve much more together than you can alone. And you know what, it is also much more fun.

This is a summary of a chapter in a new book, ‘Generation Impact: International Perspectives on Impact Accounting’, a unique blend of scholarly research and boots-on-the-ground insights brought together by Adam Richards and Jeremy Nicholls at Social Value UK and International and published by Emerald.

Purchase your copy here.

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