In working on a new field guide for collaborative networks with the Garfield Foundation, I have been exploring the capacities that are important to model and encourage among participants in the early stages of developing a collaborative initiative. A key one is to encourage people to hold a dual responsibility to their organization and the larger field/system, i.e., to wear two hats.
Setting the Context for Collaboration
The potential of a collaborative initiative can only be realized if the participants move beyond focusing on their individual efforts, which are often fragmented and not aligned, to find shared purpose and the potential in collaboration. In early meetings, it is helpful to explicitly ask people to carry this intention of wearing both hats. The following are some ways to describe this orientation:
- Check your organizational ego at the door.
- Engage as human beings beyond roles and titles, letting go of posturing and positioning to communicate honestly and candidly.
- Be curious about the dynamics of the larger system your work is part of and open to seeing it from others’ perspectives, e.g., look for how your story connects to others.
- Put on the “common interest” hat by looking for how the pieces can be made greater by putting them together in strategic ways.
- Explore how the various talents and skills of other participants can each contribute to a greater whole.
- Focus on finding the “sweet spot of collaboration” where working together can bring greater benefit to your organization and provide gain to the community/field as a whole e.g., pursue a bolder vision that can grow the pie of funding for everyone.
- Be willing to be wrong, e.g., holding your answer or position loosely.
- Imagine a future where you succeeded so well that you work yourselves out of a job.
Each institution is autonomous and has to do its own work the way each instrument in an orchestra plays only its own part. But there is also the score, the community. And only if each individual instrument contributes to the score is there music. – Peter Drucker
People can’t be expected to adopt these behaviors if the larger context is not aligned. Conveners and funders particularly need to look at how to align funding and other incentives so people’s participation benefits or helps meet their organizational needs as well, for example:
- Reduce competition for funding among non-profit participants, e.g., provide funding to participate in the collaborative initiative and network meetings; provide multi-year grants to reduce sense of scarcity and worry about funding.
- Design each gathering to add value in ways that help people advance their work (e.g., valuable new learning, new and/or strengthened relationships, connecting to peers, understanding how their work fits and connects to the larger system)
- Fundraise to “grow the pie” so participants expand their work as a result of participating and are incentivized to share and contribute openly
- Create funds and request proposals for collaborative projects on priorities that emerge from network’s work.
Network coordinators can help by being generous in giving credit, recognition, and opportunities to participating members.