The unprecedented times that we are all facing right now undoubtedly have many dark, frightening aspects. But I have also noticed that there are some signs of hope for our uncertain future – communities coming together, creativity flourishing, a sense of taking actions for the greater good.
Something that gives me hope is the examples of collaboration between organisations, especially in the third sector. At a time of huge difficulty, when many organisations are struggling for funding, to deal with greater numbers of service users and to support frightened staff and volunteers, they are also looking for ways to work together.
From the likes of NCVO, ACEVO and SCC co-ordinating the sector’s voice to government to local organisations coming together in community hubs to deliver food, prescriptions and comfort to elderly and vulnerable people, I love hearing the examples of joined up effort.
Many organisations now recognise that there are other options beyond regarding each other simply as competitors.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines collaboration as a noun for ‘working jointly with’ and Chambers describes it as ‘working in association with’. If you work with another organisation, then you can learn from each other, pool your ideas and resources and become greater than the sum of your parts. I think that the benefits of strength through working together are being recognised more and more, but how to make it happen?
(The word also has more negative connotations, of course, based on helping out your enemies, but that’s not the meaning we’re interested in here.)
Collaboration between two organisations requires many things, such as appropriate processes and a desire to make it work. What it also requires is strong, effective communication between the organisations that are coming together. For those that are considering taking this route of working with others for the greater good, there are a number of communication points to consider:
- From the start, you need to be clear about what you hope to get from working together and articulate that clearly. It might be that compromise is required for all parties to achieve their aims from the collaboration. You need to have that discussion at the start, not when you are already embroiled in a grant application process or delivering a shared service.
- You need to have clear messages for both your internal staff and volunteer body and your external audiences, such as supporters and service-users, so that they understand what you are trying to achieve and how it will affect them.
- Regular contact between the appropriate stakeholder groups is key to ensuring that once you have started from the same page, you remain on the same one over time. Management and leadership meetings are important, as are regular updates between groups who are delivering a shared service or gathering shared feedback.
- Listen. To each other, to your service-users, to your funders, to your supporters, to other relevant bodies and agencies. Anyone who is in any way impacted by your collaboration will have an opinion and it is crucial to listen to what is being said, to ensure you remain on track with your original aims and make the difference you were hoping for.
Collaborating with others isn’t for everyone, but it can make a huge difference in situations where you are getting nowhere alone. And if nothing else, the last few months have shown that working together is far more valuable to us all than trying to go it alone.
And I’m sure that will become ever clearer as we face our uncertain future.
If you would like help with communicating effectively with partners when you are working together, please get in touch.
Until next time