The Four Keys to Effective Collaborations

The Fourth Economy team strongly believes in the power of partnerships in improving community and economic development outcomes. Through our work, we have managed numerous collaborations and identified four keys that lead to effective partnerships.

Patience, Participation, and Partnership

Effective collaboration can be difficult and often takes time. Therefore, it requires that all stakeholders have patience throughout the process of building partnerships and developing solutions. As partnership groups face challenging times, it is critical that they overcome these difficulties together and remain engaged in the effort. One difficulty that may arise is that as individuals and organizations collaborate to further a common purpose, they are typically guided by their own self-interest. These motivations are not always negative and can often support the success of collaborative groups when they are aligned with the goals of the larger partnership. In addition to acknowledging these self-interests, during initial conversations, these groups should identify outcomes and boundaries to focus their work. The group should allow for some flexibility in these areas as issues can change, but too much flexibility will impede the group’s ability to effect change and could cause stakeholders to leave the group.

Rivalry and Competition

Collaborations often depend on organizations with similar missions, service areas, or target populations working together to further a common purpose. Due to this, conflicts within the group are bound to arise. It is important for these partnerships to have an unbiased facilitator who can help recognize and address issues between partners before they become too large. This individual can help mediate conflicts by reminding the participants of the importance of their work and the intent of the collaboration to achieve a shared goal. Not all competition is bad, however. An appropriate amount of rivalry can actually be beneficial to a collaborative. In these situations, progress can be made by partners challenging each other to think differently to improve their services and contributions to the group. It is imperative to find a healthy balance with internal competition.

Big Agenda

Effective collaborations are guided by a shared agenda that is bigger than one project. Shaping this vision should begin by identifying a broad set of outcomes. Once these initial outcomes are defined, then the collaborative will need to refine, prioritize, and ultimately determine how to monitor progress on achieving the goals. Collaboration should leverage the strengths of stakeholders and those strengths should be diverse. As the group develops this agenda, opportunities may be considered that will distract the group from impacting the desired agenda. While it might not make sense for the partnership group to commit time and resources to this opportunity, individual organizations can choose to work on these projects independently. Essentially, not every project is a collaborative opportunity. There will also be strategies that a single organization may already be implementing. In these cases, coordination is key to avoid duplication of efforts. It is important to know that not every strategy will require the efforts of each organization around the table. Ultimately, however, the group will engage in work that will require the collaboration of each of the stakeholders.

Building Trust

The engine that drives collaborative work is trust. While trust can be developed through the process of working together, it is invaluable to collaborative work to have it be the foundation of partnerships. Partners often bring their own interests into these efforts and trust, in this sense, does not mean that all partners share the same goals. What trust creates in partnerships is an openness to discuss and acknowledge these issues and find common ground. Trust is what binds these groups together during challenging and uncertain times. It allows them to endure as a partnership to achieve their outcomes. Without trust, collaborations are unable to move through the process of effective collaboration and often allow internal issue to assume the energy and resources of the group.