Barriers to Collaboration
To the degree that agencies are able to overcome the three external barriers: time, turf, and trust, and their internal barriers, they will engage in collaborations of different complexity and commitment. The ability to overcome barriers will be reflected in the progressive continuum of collaborative strategies.
The three powerful, common external barriers that might impede collaborative efforts or the working together of institutions are time, trust, and turf.
Time: Collaborative efforts take time to develop. Short-term, collaboration will take more time and effort than providing services independently; however, long-term it will save time.
Trust: Lack of trust becomes a barrier in collaborative efforts. Trust can be influenced by prior or current troubled working relationships, or by lack of understanding on how institutions or disciplines operate, or by personal factors such as personality or temperament of an institutional representative.
Turf: Issues surface when an imbalance, perceived or real, of the benefits to the collaboration partners occurs. For example, one institution might see that another institution reaps more benefits from the collaborative effort; or, one institution takes on less responsibility, or has more decision making power. Turf issues arise when partners do not see each other equally benefiting from the collaboration.
Internal Barriers: (Collaboration, p 51-66)
An extension of the primary barriers noted above are the following internal barriers that can affect collaborative efforts within an institution or with other institutions.
The Not-Invented-Here Barrier: This arises when people are not willing to reach beyond their own areas to get input and collaboration. This is usually the result of either an insular culture where communication mainly occurs inside a group; a status gap where folks don’t want to cross the status lines; a mindset of self-reliance, one should fix their own problems; or fear, where they do not want to reveal their problems or shortcomings. This is a motivational problem moving people to the point where they don’t want to collaborate.
The Hoarding Barrier: This barrier is where those who might provide help, do not offer it. There is a sense of competition with colleagues and other units; the rewards in the institution are only for their own personal goals, not institutional goals; they are too busy to the point where they feel there is no time to help others; and there is the fear of the loss of power if sharing knowledge occurs. This is a second type of motivational problem resulting in people not wanting to collaborate.
The Search Barrier: This barrier reflects the reality that somewhere someone has the answer to the problem, but the one who has the problem cannot locate the one who has the answer. Bigger institutions are more likely to face search problems; the distance between institutions or divisions makes the search difficult; too much information worsens the search; and the lack of links or networks within or outside of the institution undermines the search. This results in an ability problem resulting in people not being able to collaborate well.
The Transfer Barrier: This barrier results when people are unable to transfer knowledge easily from one place to another. This may result when either the knowledge is difficult to transfer; folks don’t know how to work together because there isn’t a common framework; or there are no strong relations to ease transfer. This is a second type of ability problem where people aren’t able to collaborate well.
To the degree that agencies are able to overcome the three primary barriers: time, turf, and trust, and their internal barriers, they will engage in collaborations of different complexity and commitment. The ability to overcome barriers will be reflected in the progressive continuum of collaborative strategies.
Long term studies and lessons learned from failed or discontinued collaborations highlight the following causes of unstable or failed collaborations.
- There was a history of conflict among key participants.
- One partner manipulated or dominated the collaboration.
- There was a lack of a clear purpose, vision, goals.
- There were unrealistic goals set.
- There was a difference of philosophy and the ways of working, group dynamics.
- There was a lack of communication.
- There was a failure to act.
- There were limited resources to accomplish the tasks.
- There was an unequal and unacceptable balance of power and control.
- There were key interests missing from the partnership.
- There were hidden agendas.
- There were strong cultural differences.
- There were gaps in knowledge and skills.
- The financial and time commitments outweighed the potential benefits of the collaboration.
These represent potential barriers that should be evaluated before entering into a collaboration.