“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is an old African proverb often quoted to articulate why collaboration is important. Collaboration has many features, is carried out for many reasons and, when done well, can realise many benefits and opportunities for organisations.
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 PURPOSE of the group: Get the group to work together to develop a mission or purpose statement – typically 1-2 sentences, 12-15 words – that articulates 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 as opposed to what any individuals need. In doing this, the members are forced to engage with, listen to and interact with others, so kick-starting 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. For example, some barriers to collaboration could be: differing priorities between group members; the impact of a lack of political support; or red-tape and changing regulation. Enablers could include having a common goal, shared skills, leveraging established working relationships and the opportunity to identify funding opportunities. In taking this approach to identify, understand and evaluate the contextual factors, the group must work together to get alignment of 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, but also as individuals within that group, 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; structures for 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 important to building strong collaboration so the use of 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 5-6 principles and suggest the group agrees 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 on a regular basis will keep them front and centre with the group and continue to promote their benefits in shaping and sustaining effective collaboration.
The following resources can be used to support teams and groups in the collaboration process:
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CES works with government departments and service providers to design, implement and evaluate public policies and services.CES is an all a not-for-profit organisation. For more information visit www.effectiveservices.org