Thursday, April 9, 2015

What To Know About 'How to Not Have' A Successful Collaboration


Organizational collaboration is expected these days. There's just simply not enough money to go around. And as we know more as a society, we require more. Unfortunately, research shows that resources are not keeping pace with these growing expectations. Thus, my generation of leaders must recognize that to manage, is to collaborate. For as we increase the number of problems we want to tackle, groups must join together to accomplish the mounting levels of work. Atul Gawande said it beautifully in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, "the complexity of the world has exceeded our capabilities as human beings."

Terms describing collaboration deem it: "best practice," "the way to eliminate waste" and "how to be greater together." Collaborations unite diverse missions and foster interorganizational relationships. Successful collaborations also reduce service duplication, plug service gaps and provide a comprehensive approach, which ultimately secures better outcomes (Sharma, 1998).

But what about those collaborations that turn out like an episode from survivor? Some organizations find themselves in a partnership that has more drama than they can handle. Frequently, this happens to groups that move forward without careful planning.

Let's consider a list of things that can go wrong without proper planning:
  • chasing dollars over mission alignment
  • underestimating overhead costs since programs always cost more than the money allotted
  • overreach or, negligence
  • founders syndrome
  • vague objectives
  • unhappy stakeholders
Case studies provide excellent examples of issues in the list above.
1. When the Timberland boot company connected with the nonprofit City Year, (Elias, 1996) the partnership suffered from poor planning. The CEO of the company moved forward quickly, and issues of founders syndrome, a misalignment of mission and vague objectives for the partnership left both parties in financial trouble.

2. In another case, the Department of Social Services in Boston asked a nonprofit called La Alianza to support the services they wanted to provide in the Latin@ community (Varley, 1996). Again without enough planning, trust eroded between the two organizations and the lines between both overreach and negligence were overstepped.

3. Lastly, in a case study from Seattle where the Seattle Art Museum and First Things First, a low income housing project, came together to raise awareness for two tax levy bills, missions became intertwined while in the pursuit of dollars (Fortier, 1996). Internal conflict at First Things First grew. Stakeholders became unhappy. Members worried about carrying the burden of work and these sentiments overwhelmed the benefits of the partnership.

Examples like these show that collaborations are not without their challenges. Certainly, these challenges are costly and exhausting for all parties involved. Poor planning and poor communication are serious issues. In turn, it goes without saying that my generation of leaders is tasked with learning how plan and manage for collaboration.

Elias, Jaan. (1996). “Timberland and Community Involvement.” Supervisor, James Austin. Harvard Business School Publishing. Boston, MA.
Fortier, Suzanne. (1996). “Funding Seattle’s Art Museum and Low-Income Housing: The Politics of Interest Groups and Tax Levies (A).” Supervisor, Jon Brock. Cascade Center for Public Service: Public Service Curriculum Exchange.

Sharma, J. & Missey, A. (2008). How I learned to stop griping… And love collaboration. National Community Service Organization.


Varley, P. (1996). "Partners in Child Protective Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana." John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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