Lessons Learned from Building Collaboration


“Coblaberation”. Have you ever been in a series of meetings, designed to develop a collaborative effort, but instead you feel like you have conversation after conversation without making any progress? Through our work on the Aligned Impact Team at Mission Capital, we have spent quite a bit of time dissecting the challenges we face when trying to work collectively and developing some practices to move away “coblaberation” and into impactful collaboration.  

Developing Trust. 

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships together” – Stephen Covey. 

From what I have experienced, effective communication and strong relationships are two of the most telling predictors of whether a collaboration will be successful. Trust is the foundation upon which both are built, and it takes time and intention. It takes being authentic, open and vulnerable with partners. In the collaborations we have worked on, especially those that involve people working together across sectors, developing trust has been one of the largest barriers, and opportunities, for moving the work forward. 

Including diverse & relevant perspectives. 

Have you ever been asked to participate on a committee where you felt like you did not have the information, interest or decision-making authority necessary to effectively represent your organization or constituents? Or, on the flip side, have you ever felt someone else on the committee was not fully vested in the process? Perhaps you have found one or more of the perspectives missing necessary to fully understand the issue you are trying to resolve together, for instance the voices of community impacted by your work. Any one of these factors can have a negative effect on the ability of a collaboration to make meaningful progress. Take some time, map out the people, organizations and systems you need to effect change and then invite them to the table. As with your project strategies, prepare to iterate on this. 

Creating a shared vision

Two people looking at this picture may see two very different things. The same can be true when two people look at a social issue or community challenge. To effectively work together, we need to share our perspectives and views, come to a common understanding and then together create a shared vision of what we want to achieve. Like building trust, this takes time and intentionality. A fun exercise to get a group started is to have two or more teams of 5-6 people, who have not worked together before, create a list of what they have in common. Then compare lists. Once we begin to find our commonalities, creating a shared vision becomes a bit easier.  

Allowing flexibility & Iteration. 

This is a fundamental shift in how we think about success of new projects. Because of the complexity of most collaborative initiatives, its challenging – I might even say impossible – to recognize all the variables that will affect your work together. It often can feel like building a plane while you are flying it. Do set a goal for the collaboration to achieve, define the long-term change that will guide your work, and make a plan that will move you forward. But develop a common understanding that some of your planned strategies may not work. When it happens it’s not failure, it provides the learning necessary to iterate and improve. Just keep that long-term goal that you set in the beginning in mind. That is your guiding star. 

Having a person or people assigned to guide the work. 

Collaborations need foundational support to anchor the work and support growth and development. This needs to be specifically assigned, though it could be to a group of individuals who each take a piece. It’s not an add-on job for someone to work on the collaborative when they have time – it is imperative for success and should be treated as so. 

Ready to move forward in this work? Take a look at collaborations you are involved in. Are any of these barriers in place? If yes, intervene. Together, let’s go forth and end all “coblaberation”! 

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