Friday, October 11, 2013

Avoiding Coblaboration

More often than not collaboration efforts rarely get past what one colleague calls the "yak, yak, yak stage" and another more succinctly calls coblaboration. The Council on Competitiveness accurately calls collaboration an unnatural act among non-consenting adults, and this is why it collaboration rarely gets past the talk.

Of course the term "collaboration" is used nearly as freely and meaninglessly as "economic development." The type of collaboration I'm interested in is the kind that results in sustained positive change within the communities that we care about. This is the type of collaboration that is described by FSG's Collective Impact framework.

Borrowing heavily from Ed Morrison's Strategic Doing framework, I believe that getting past the coblaboration requires stakeholders participating in a collaboration to develop "three shareds:"

  • Understanding -- Do the stakeholders have the data, strategic analysis and knowledge they need to fully understand the opportunity they are pursuing together. In our rapidly changing world the context and content of the opportunity may change multiple times through the life of a collaboration. As things change, the shared understanding must change as well. It helps if every meeting among collaborators begins with an affirmation of the shared understanding by the stakeholders.
  • Value -- What value can be created by working together that cannot be created through unilateral action? Is that value sufficient for me and my organization to cross boundaries and collaborate with others? These are essential questions that must be answered for stakeholders to commit to the collaboration process. "What's in it for me?" is not a selfish question at all. Without the creation of clearly understood and articulated shared value, collaboration won't get past talk.
  • Responsibility -- One way to test the level of value being created is the level of responsibility stakeholders are willing to assume to create the value. If the stakeholders expect others to be responsible they obviously have a low assessment of the value. Realistically, most stakeholders are skeptical about the ability of a collaboration to create the predicted value. After all they've been unable to create such value on their own, so why should they think someone else could help them do it? That is why most stakeholders aren't willing to assume 100% of the responsibility for creating the value in the early days of a collaboration. Instead outside funders -- public, private and philanthropic -- often must catalyze the collaboration by providing the resources and support needed to launch the process and generate the initial value. However, funders should design the collaboration so that over time -- as the value is proven -- the stakeholders assume more of the responsibility for the value created.
When stakeholders understand the opportunity, identify the value and assume responsibility collaborations can move beyond yakking and blabbing to generate sustained positive change.

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