What do Google, The Beatles and aeroplanes all have in common?
Larry Page and Sergey Brin met as students; they started a company as a way to experiment with search algorithms later becoming Google.
The Wright Brothers started out fixing bikes; it was their invention of the three-axis controls that made flying a fixed-wing aircraft possible.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the driving force behind the sound that changed pop music forever.
The common factor? Simple partnerships, with a mutual passion, sparking ideas that went on to change the world.
Collaborating with others enables us to share ideas, be inspired and potentially do some revolutionary work.
Collaboration is by no means a new concept – in fact, for all of us, it’s something we do on a daily basis, whether it is planning with your friends where to take your next holiday, preparing a meal with your partner or organising your family for a day out.
Yet who amongst us hasn’t found some of these tasks at times challenging? We can all think of instances where things haven’t gone to plan due to disagreements and different approaches, traffic jams or bad weather.
If collaboration in its basic form presents challenges, how can we deal with the same when trying to work effectively with colleagues in fundraising, internally across the wider organisation and externally with others? What is the value in it and how do we go about it?
The value of collaboration
Collaboration is a way of being; an approach to how we work that is steeped in values, beliefs and a desire to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved. The benefits can be many and varied, ranging from the financial – be it sharing resources to increase efficiency or raising more money by leveraging each other’s assets (think Tesco and its multi-year multi-charity partnership) to the human, such as finding ways to develop employee skills and capabilities, increase in job satisfaction and enhance employee retention – particularly useful if your organisation is one of those that struggles to keep hold of its fundraising staff.
And of course there are the physical benefits, such as collaborating on workspace to make it affordable – The Melting Pot or CAN-Mezzanine being prime examples here – and the intellectual, such as working together to utilise a wider pool of knowledge, skills and expertise.
Brilliant! However, if these are the benefits, why aren’t we all doing it?
There are many reasons, with a key one being that successful collaboration is unlikely to be easy. Working through the challenges you encounter on the way is fundamental to the process.
Keith Sawyer in his book Group Genius: The creative power of collaboration says that to create a truly collaborative team requires organisational change, and it is this that often acts as the barrier for many when striving for success.
1. Clarity of objectives
First, everyone needs to understand what they want to achieve from the collaboration. We know there are many benefits to be enjoyed, but what are the motivators driving the organisations in question, and what’s needed to deliver. Managing expectations and understanding roles and responsibilities are central to working together effectively.
2. Shared vision and values
Second, do you have a collective vision and values with your collaborators? This underpins everything and without this when challenges arise instead of working through them, it’s likely you will go your separate ways. It is important to articulate this shared vision – it is your ‘why’. The challenge of collaboration is worth the opportunity for more income to enable you help more beneficiaries.
This was the first point of focus in a collaboration between the fundraising team and care team at Claire House, Children’s Hospice. Its Integrated Care Service Lead, Lesley Fellows recognised that while they all had a shared goal ”of wanting the absolute best for the children and families they worked with”, all too often the teams worked independently rather than together.
Over two years, the charity worked towards instilling collaborative working across teams at every level. This involved developing relationships, building trust through to implementing initiatives that enabled a space for conversation across teams. The fundraising team began to shadow shifts in the hospice, enabling them to experience first-hand palliative care, informing how they spoke about the work of the charity and the impact it has on families.
The impact has been improved morale, enhanced skills, more income – but perhaps most importantly of all, the families the charity works for now have a much stronger voice. Families want to share their experiences; to talk about their child, leave a legacy and the collaborative approach created a space where this could happen.
Other examples would be Network Rail and Samaritans, or O2 and NSPCC – different organisations that are coming together to solve a problem.
3. Make time for conversations
Third, good communication is essential. Conversation is the driver; it generates innovation and creativity all of which are needed when working collaboratively. This means you have to create time and space for conversations to happen. For Claire House Children’s Hospice this came when they attended a residential training course, from which other ideas emerged, such as ‘Tea and chatter’ – opportunities for staff to get together on a Friday afternoon to chat about what they were up to.
Simple but effective.
4. Buy-in in both organisations
Fourth, buy-in is required across the organisations involved. Successful charity collaborators reach out to their employees, supporters, directors, suppliers, trustees and even competitors. By recognising their position within a network, resources can
be used more effectively. For example, NPC’s Impact Network aims to help funding be allocated in the most effective way, working together to ensure the best outcomes.
5. Staying focused
The final key to success is having the right mind-set that will help you get through, round and over the various roadblocks you might encounter on route. For Lesley Fellows and her team at Claire House Children’s Hospice it was about staying focused on the end goal. Their collaboration required a shift in organisational culture, commitment over a two-year period and at times, the team found it emotionally demanding. What kept them going throughout was the absolute belief in knowing that this would be beneficial to the families and children they worked for.
Thinking back to those day-to-day tasks, where the family trip didn’t go so well or you argued over how to cook dinner. What happened next? Do you look back and laugh? Do you remember the day with fondness? Did you apologise for not hearing the other person?
Successful collaboration required the same humility and patience. Work through the challenges, hold the ‘shared vision and values’ at the centre of everything and if it really isn’t working, acknowledge this, learn from it and be prepared to walk away.
Do this and you could soon be on the revolutionary road to changing the world just like The Beatles, Google and The Wright Brothers did!
Helen Denny is director of Not9to5. Not9to5 is working collaboratively with Lucy Gower over at Lucidity to enable leaders, entrepreneurs and freelancers to thrive. Their partnership centres around a supportive community, practical resources and
events to create a space for learning and development. If you want to build a culture of collaboration, innovation and raise some more money then get in touch!
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