There seems to be plenty of rhetoric around the importance of collaboration in the social purpose sector. Most people think it’s a “good thing” and many organisations will have collaboration, co-operation, openness and partnership written into their mission and values.
The reality, of course, is not so straightforward. Collaborating with other organisations probably means some loss of independence and control. It can involve working with groups you have previously regarded as competitors; the demand for often scarce funding and competitive contracting processes all fuel a competitive rather than collaborative culture.
I hope that organisations thinking about or actively pursuing collaboration with others, have ‘making life better for their clients and users’ as their overarching goal. In fact, how to improve outcomes for beneficiaries should surely be the central starting point for thinking about collaboration. Yes, collaboration might be seen as a way of becoming more efficient, improving and expanding services, reducing costs and becoming more resilient and sustainable. But ultimately the bottom line should be ‘how will it help the people and communities we seek to serve’.
However, it does seem as if difficult personal and organisational relationships, entrenched views, a determination to remain totally independent, politics (in all its forms) and an inability to put behind you what has happened in the past, all get in the way. And sometimes sorting out the detail of governance, partnership agreements, due diligence, employment contracts and so on –obscure and divert attention from the ultimate prize.
As independent consultants it’s often fairly easy for us to see the bigger picture and cut through the stuff that is making collaboration difficult. But, to be honest you shouldn’t have to engage consultants to do this job. Just keep reminding yourself, your team, your trustees and the people you are seeking to work with, to keep firmly focussed on how beneficiaries will benefit.