Four Steps to Collaborating with Purpose

Download the Guide

Four Steps to Collaborating with Purpose

The adage goes, if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself. In the real world, however, we know this rarely rings true.

Collaboration is the cornerstone to any successful project delivery. In work or our personal lives, we collaborate on everything from the weekly shop to service implementation. But how can we think about collaboration more mindfully? In a way that ensures collaboration has a more significant impact?

That’s a question project specialists Ken Stanley and Dearbhaile Slane explored earlier this year at the Wheel Charity Summit. Hosting a workshop called ‘Collaborating with Purpose’, participants heard insights from what the CES team are learning while collaborating on projects across different sectors and settings. They also shared some essential tools and approaches.

Key takeaways included:

  • The more you put into collaborating effectively, the more you get out of it. Collaboration is a journey but requires consistent, sustained effort to support it. The context in which any group works is unique to them. It’s worth taking the time to evaluate and understand how a group collaborates.
  • Trust and mutual respect must be built at the beginning of a collaboration to build a foundation. These are fundamental to the sustainability of the collaboration. Setting structures, processes, and mutual accountability are critical to this. Participants are encouraged to listen to understand rather than hear to respond.
  • A common barrier to successful collaboration is an imbalance in input, e.g., one party feeling like they’re carrying the bulk of the work. Partnership can feel like a top-down experience. This can be a natural part of any collaboration and can be overcome. Naming that imbalance and recognising it will help to build trust between parties.
  • Collaboration is complex and takes effort. It’s hard to find the time to do it properly. However, it won’t happen by magic, so it must be planned and purposeful and be entered into conscientiously. Following a simple process will help kick-start the collaborative process and provide the group with a blueprint to help inform how they will work together.

Understanding the keys to successful collaboration is just the starting point. Here are four steps to get groups to go ‘All-in’ collaboration.

Four steps to establish effective collaboration

This simple process can be used for groups that are newly forming or with groups/teams that have worked together but who have maybe lost their way.

Step 1: Define and understand the group’s PURPOSE: Get the group working together to develop a mission or purpose statement – typically 1-2 sentences, 12-15 words – articulating what the group should accomplish. Setting the group such a task will require them to step back and focus on what the group needs to achieve instead of what any individuals need. In doing this, the members are forced to engage with, listen to and interact with others, kick-start collaboration in practice.

Step 2: Identify the CONTEXTUAL FACTORS that influence how the group will collaborate: The context within which any group has to operate will always be unique, so time is well spent teasing out these factors and understanding how they will impact and inform the group and how it works. Barriers to collaboration identified by workshop participants included differing priorities between group members, the impact of a lack of political support, red tape and changing regulation while having a common goal, shared skills, leveraging established working relationships and the opportunity to identify funding opportunities were cited as solid enablers of collaboration. In taking this approach to identify, understand and evaluate the contextual factors, the group must work together to align opinion, understanding of perspective and alignment of approach to be taken. This is ‘collaboration in action’.

Step 3: Understand how WORK PRACTICES and BEHAVIOURS impact how the group works: How the group works and how everyone behaves, both as a group and as individuals, really matters and will shape how effective they are as a unit. In this step, the group reflects on the work practices (when do they meet, where and how often; how much structure there is with information sharing and reporting, etc.) as well as how people behave (do people engage, are discussions open, do people hold back, are people motivated, etc.). Ensuring people open up and are honest is essential here to build strong collaboration, so using technology solutions that allow for candid sharing of opinion to facilitate such a discussion can be helpful here.

Step 4: Develop and agree GUIDING PRINCIPLES: Using the insights collected through steps 1-3, the group should bring all this information together to form a clear set of principles that will guide how the group will operate and function. We recommend agreeing on 5-6 principles and suggest the group agrees on a similar number of commitments that all group members will commit to undertake to adhere to those principles.

Having developed this rulebook or blueprint together, the collaboration is underway and is set up for success. Anchoring the group back to the Guiding Principles and Commitments regularly will keep them front and centre with the group and continue to promote their benefits in shaping and sustaining effective collaboration.

This article is adapted from the original piece, with author permission, published on iCommunity.

Related Guides


Work with CES

Get in Touch