Successful collaborations have common characteristics that can be found in the six primary key factors identified by research from the Wilder Research Center (Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd Edition, Wilder Research Center, 2001) The factors for success-environmental, membership characteristics, processes and structures, communication, purposes, and resources available-should be honestly reflected upon before embarking on any type of collaboration and should be incorporated into a pre-collaboration assessment as well as a long term assessment of the health and vitality of the collaboration.
The ENVIRONMENT in which the collaboration is developed will be a key indicator of future success. If there is a history of collaboration or cooperation and the groups are able to get around competing with each other, they will more likely be successful. When the institutions involved are seen as legitimate leaders in the community and there is a favorable political and social climate to collaborate, the collaboration will be favored for success.
The MEMBERSHIP CHARACTERISTICS are crucial elements of a successful collaboration. Mutual respect, understanding and trust between the institutions lays the foundation. The membership includes an appropriate cross section of the members and they see the collaboration as in their self-interest. They demonstrate the ability to compromise.
The PROCESS AND STRUCTURE under which the collaboration will function and develop plays a key role in success. All members share a stake in both the process and the outcomes of the collaboration and there are multiple layers of participation available. There is the development of clear roles and policy guidelines. But at the same time, there is flexibility and adaptability. There is an appropriate pace of development. All members are in compliance with legal requirements and there is planning for implementation and evaluation.
The COMMUNICATION pathways will make or break a collaboration. There should be open and frequent communication reflected and there are established informal relationships and communication links.
The PURPOSE of the collaboration should be unique and reflect concrete and attainable goals and objectives. The shared vision stirs passion amongst the members and the community it serves.
The RESOURCES are sufficient to see the collaboration through to fruition including sufficient funds, staff, materials, and time. There is skilled leadership at all levels to see the development of the collaboration through the entire process and to create stability once developed.
In addition to the above factors, there must be a balance between the collaboration team and the individuals involved in the collaboration. The unification of the team needs to be balanced with the individual accountability of each member. The unifying goals of the team should be supported by each individual’s goals. The values of teamwork should be balanced with the individual responsibility of each member and the language of collaboration should be aligned with the individual’s language of accountability.
Culture plays a key role in the success of collaborations. Evan Rosen describes the ten top cultural elements necessary for successful collaboration in his book, The Bounty Effect: Seven Steps to the Culture of Collaboration.
- Trust is imperative to develop comfort with colleagues so that the other elements can easily flow.
- Sharing allows ideas to flow and grow as discussions continue.
- Common goals ensure everyone is reading from the same script.
- Innovative spirit and the ability to embrace new approaches to solving problems or reaching the goals.
- Environment that supports group interaction in both the physical and virtual realms and not result in confusion.
- Function in collaborative chaos to make room for the unexpected and to rolling with the punches.
- Constructive confrontation to respectfully take a stand and work through issues that may arise.
- Communication which is crucial to the shared creation of something new.
- Community for sharing interests and goals.
- Value that is created as a culmination of collaborative activity.
Are you or is your institution ready and able to be part of these elements?
Rosen also describes and refutes the eight common myths about collaboration and their effect on the culture of collaboration.
Myth #1: Collaboration is tools and technologies. Tools and technologies extend and enhance collaboration, but it takes more than tools for collaboration to happen. Technology alone will not make the shift to a culture of collaboration.
Myth #2: Collaboration is relinquishing individual thought. Collaboration inspires people to think clearly and independently, share their thoughts, constructively confront one another, and through synergy create greater value. Cultures that encourage “groupthink” and discourage individual thought compromise value by reinforcing mediocrity.
Myth #3: Collaboration is consensus. Consensus can happen as a result of collaboration, but it is not Collaboration. Collaboration requires constructive confrontation. Constructive confrontation is the antithesis of blind agreement.
Myth #4: Collaboration is discussion without decision. Collaboration produces better, faster decisions because all stakeholders can come together in real time and hash out issues. Collaboration lets people constructively confront one another to resolve issues and determine a course of action.
Myth #5: Collaboration is strategic alliances. Strategic alliances are often more about words than actions and are not necessarily collaborative. Collaboration between institutions involves joint creation of value.
Myth # 6: Collaboration is negotiation. Negotiation involves self-interest rather than mutual interest. Collaboration involves mutual creation of value so that all parties benefit.
Myth #7: Collaboration is social networking. Social networking brings people together, but what we do when we come together may or may not be collaboration. Social networking is collaboration only if we’re creating value.
Myth #8: Collaboration is relinquishing intellectual property. Collaboration among partners may involve agreements to share intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property is key to collaboration among institutions.
Are you and your institution ready to address these elements and myths?
Go to Barriers to Collaboration.